Senate Hearing Examines Contaminated Toy Recall In New York State

Carl L Marcellino

December 04, 2007

A New York State Senate Public Hearing was Co-Chaired today by Senator Carl L. Marcellino, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., and Senator Kemp Hannon investigating recent recalls of contaminated toys and consumer products found to have excessive levels of lead and to determine whether the state can play a better role in further expediting recall notifications. The Senators who serve as Chairpersons of the Committees on Consumer Protection; Health; and Environmental Conservation respectively, are also working to ensure that New York State consumers understand what products are safe to purchase especially during the holiday season; determining if there is enough being done to notify consumers and parents of the symptoms of lead poisoning, and ensuring proper disposal of contaminated products.

Senator Carl L. Marcellino said, "New York store shelves should not be a dumping ground for toxic toys. Yet recall after recall keep popping up and the tragic stories of sick children follow. I look forward to finding the answers that will keep these tainted toys out of our State and out of the hands of our children. If there is one thing kids and parents should trust it is safe toys. Children don’t know any better; the toy companies should."

Senator Fuschillo said, "The recall of numerous toys over the past several months have left many parents confused and concerned about the best ways to keep hazardous toys away from their children. During this hearing we will examine the steps that state and federal government, retailers and consumer groups take to protect children in the event of a toy recall, and we’ll discuss ways to improve those steps. Ultimately, the best way to protect our citizens from hazardous toys and other dangerous consumer imports is to pre-test these products before they even reach the marketplace. We are also encouraging the federal government to greatly boost its efforts to identify unsafe items before they reach the store shelves."

Senator Kemp Hannon said, "The safety of the public and of our children is of the utmost importance to me. When we buy a child a toy, we should expect that it be free of harmful substances such as lead-based paint. Controls must be put in place to protect the public. This hearing will lead us on a pathway to see what New York can do outside of the confines of the federal government to ensure the safety of children from harmful imports."

Testimony was received by experts in the areas of consumer product safety, the retail industry, health, and environmental protection. The Senators sought answers to questions including:

  • What are the best practices and current standards employed by governmental agencies and retailers?
  • How do the safety standards of domestic products compare to foreign-made products?
  • What are the procedures for disposal of contaminated products?
  • How can the State ensure the public’s protection, especially children’s health?
  • What can consumers do to protect themselves?
  • What are the notification procedures when a problem is discovered?

The New York State Attorney General’s office recently stated that many of the products involved in the recall contained up to 1,000 times more lead than federal standards suggest is a safe level. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled more than 150 million items nationwide in the last two years but the Attorney General’s office said these recalls are voluntary and unenforceable.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) recently released it’s 22nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety which focused on lead contaminated toys among other safety topics. In one cited test case a piece of jewelry contained 65% lead by weight while some other tested toys exceeded lead paint standards by 50-500%.

In 2006, a 4-year-old Minnesota boy died from acute lead poisoning after swallowing a heart-shaped charm containing high concetrations of lead

The NYPIRG report quoted a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics which stated that "exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, especially the central nervous system. Lead is especially toxic to the brains of young children. A child exposed to a single high dose of lead-such as swallowing a piece of metal jewelry containing lead-can suffer permanent neurological and behavioral damage, blood poisoning, and life-threatening encephalopathy. Exposure to a low dose of lead can cause IQ deficits, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and deficits in vocabulary, fine motor skills reaction time, and hand-eye coordination.

Written testimony from Rick Ruppert, Executive Vice President of Product Development, Safety and Sourcing for Toys "R" Us stated: "...we fully recognize that the issue of toy safety goes well beyond business and directly to the well-being of the families we serve. We have reiterated this simple, single fact to our employees, suppliers, and business partners: we will not tolerate products that do not meet our rigorous safety standards. Toys "R" Us acts rapidly when a recall takes place. We post all recall information on our dedicated safety micro website, and we have also implemented a system to help customers return recalled products immediately and efficiently, regardless of whether the recalled items were purchased at Toys "R" Us or at another retailer. Your efforts as legislators are not only welcome, but, we believe, crucial. We are also very supportive of a faster recall process once a problem is identified and confirmed so that we can contact the public and get the product off the store shelves as soon as possible.