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Shoppers Warned of Toxic Leaden Playthings Still in Stores
WASHINGTON, DC, November 23, 2007 (ENS) - High levels of lead in children's backpacks, rain ponchos, vinyl lunchboxes and toys are documented by nonprofit environmental health and consumer protection groups in two reports this week. In addition, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission announced recalls of children's jewelry and school supplies with illegal levels of lead. The findings serve as warnings to shoppers with children on their lists this holiday season.

The Center for Environmental Health, based in Oakland, California, together with the grassroots online group MomsRising.org commissioned lab tests of children's products for lead. Many tested way above the legal limit for lead in paint - 600 parts per million. The federal limit applies although public health experts now say there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

The testing found lead levels ranging from 3,700 ppm to more than 9,100 ppm in four backpacks - Thomas and Friends backpack, Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, and Hello Kitty's "Chococat."

Tests showed that a Disney-licensed "High School Musical" backpack tested at over 13,000 ppm of lead, more than 21 times the legal limit for lead in paint.

Some backpacks may contain illegally high levels of lead. (Photo credit unknown)

"It's shocking to see incredibly high levels of lead in products for children," said Michael Green, executive director of Center for Environmental Health, CEH. "Unfortunately, our nonprofit is doing more to protect children than the federal agency that is responsible for product safety. Our tests show that once again, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is failing to ensure the safety of millions of products for children."

Testing commissioned by CEH also found a youth rain poncho made by the national camping gear company Coleman, which tested at 17,500 ppm, nearly 600 times the 30 ppm limit agreed to in a 2005 legal settlement that the group reached with another poncho maker.

A vinyl "Mine Eat Trax" child's lunchbox from Office Depot tested at 2,500 ppm, said CEH.

The Center has taken legal action against all the manufacturers and/or retailers of all these products under California's Proposition 65 law, which requires the governor to publish a list of chemicals that are known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm and to update the list at least once a year.

The 1986 law is intended to provide a market-based incentive for manufacturers to remove listed chemicals from their products.

CEH has previously won legal agreements to end lead hazards in diaper creams, children's medicines, home water filters, lunchboxes, baby bibs and other products that the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission failed to find.

In May, CEH legal action resulted in Wal-Mart stopping the sale of the company's store-brand baby bibs from stores in California, after independent testing found high levels of lead in the vinyl bibs. Testing commissioned by CEH found that one of the Baby Connection brand vinyl bibs, which were sold exclusively at Wal-Mart stores, had a lead level of 9700 ppm, more than 16 times greater than the legal limit for lead in paint.

CEH was first alerted to the problem of lead in baby bibs by a Chicago-area grandmother who used a home lead test on her grandson's bib after she learned that the group found high lead levels in vinyl lunchboxes. Noticing her grandson chewing on his bib, Marilyn Furer became concerned. Her concern grew after the home test indicated that lead was present on the surface of Jensen's bib. She sent the lead-tainted bib to CEH, which then began its own investigation.

The Illinois Attorney General in May announced a statewide recall of the Wal-Mart bibs, based on their own test findings of lead levels over the state's legal limit for children's products.

In September, toy giant Mattel recalled millions of toys made in China coated with lead-tainted paint. In October, the company recalled another lead-painted toy, the Go Diego Go! Animal Rescue Boat.

Fisher-Price Go Diego Go!™ Animal Rescue Boat was recalled in October for high levels of lead. (Photo courtesy Mattel)

On Wednesday, because paint on the zippers contains illegally high levels of lead, the CSPC announced the recall of thousands of children's clear plastic Stuff Keepers pencil pouches and Bear Pencil Pouches. The pouches were given to children by supply distributors in schools nationwide from September 1997 through October 2007.

More recalls announced by the federal agency cover several brands of metal jewelry, key rings and pins with religious themes such as crosses and fish symbols, charm bracelets and key rings.

"Parents are appalled, angry and ready to act to make sure their children do not have toys, backpacks, or lunch boxes with lead in them," said Joan Blades, president of MomsRising.org and co-founder of Move On.org.

"Tens of thousands of MomsRising.org members have contacted members of Congress to demand action. Products with lead in them should never reach store shelves or our children and we intend to hold that vision until it is reality," she said.

Children exposed to lead can suffer lowered intelligence, delayed mental and physical development and even death. Last year a four-year old Minnesota boy died after swallowing a piece of jewelry later found to contain 99 percent lead.

Hazardous toys, including toys containing high lead levels are still sold in stores across the country, according to the 22nd annual toy safety survey released Tuesday by the national nonprofit advocacy organization U.S. Public Interest Research Group, U.S. PIRG.

U.S. PIRG says its researchers "went to just a few stores and easily found four children's toys or jewelry containing high, actionable levels of lead."

Some 132,000 of these religious fish necklaces were recalled earlier this year for high levels of lead. (Photo courtesy ConsumerAffairs.com)
The organization said one piece of jewelry tested was 65 percent lead by weight, more than 1,000 times current action levels set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"We've known for decades that lead poses serious health risks to children, yet consumers can still find lead-laden children's jewelry and lead painted toys on store shelves," said Ed Mierzwinski, who heads U.S. PIRG's Consumer Program.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has only one toy tester and 15 inspectors to check millions of toys at hundreds of ports of entry, and many safety advocates, both inside and outside of Congress, are seeking an increase in budget and staffing for the agency.

U.S. PIRG called on lawmakers to ban lead in children's toys except at trace amounts by supporting and strengthening two bills now making their way through Congress.

The CSPC Reform Act is ready for Senate floor action, and the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act is awaiting full Energy and Commerce Committee action after Thanksgiving.

"I am proud of the bipartisan spirit with which this legislation was drafted," said co-author Congressman John Dingell of Michigan, a Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, which approved the bill November 15.

"I am also grateful to all the stakeholders who have contributed to the advancement of a workable, commonsense bill that will strengthen our nation's capacity to protect its consumers and children," Dingell said.

"This legislation will set a tough federal standard for lead content in toys and then aggressively push that limit even lower to make sure that children aren't sickened by their playthings," said co-author Congressman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, ranking member of the subcommittee. "I hope that another effect of the new testing requirements will be to remove doubt in parents' minds about whether the toys they buy are safe for their kids."

The Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act establishes a nationwide ban on products containing lead beyond specified minute amounts, third-party testing and certification for children's products, and mandatory tracking labels for children's products.

It contains provisions that double the CPSC's budget over the next seven years to more than $141 million a year.

Nancy Nord heads the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (Photo courtesy CPSC)

Some legislators, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are calling for the resignation of CPSC Acting Commissioner Nancy Nord, in part because she does not support the bill.

"At this point I have no intention of resigning," said Nord October 31. Nord rejected criticism that she is controlled by the White House and manufacturers.

In an October 24 letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, Nord said thebill doubling the agency's funding and giving it greater authority to inspect and recall products "could have the unintended consequence of hampering, rather than furthering, consumer product safety."

She objected that the additional responsibilities mandated by the bill would make it tougher for the agency to do its job.

The National Safety Council, a nonprofit, nongovernmental, public service organization, warned as early as 2004 that at least 400,000 American children under the age of six have too much lead in their blood.

"Much of this lead is of microscopic size, invisible to the naked eye," said the Council. "All it takes is the lead dust equivalent of a single grain of salt for a child to register an elevated blood lead level."

Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead's harmful health effects, because their brains and central nervous systems are still being formed.

For them, warns the Council, even very low levels of exposure can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, and kidney damage. At high levels of exposure, a child may become mentally retarded, fall into a coma or die from lead poisoning.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

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