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ANTI-Lead Pact with Mattel: Bah Humbug

By Jackie Burrell
Thursday, December 4th, 2008 at 5:53 pm in Toy Recalls.

recalled topRemember all the lead paint toy recalls last year? And this year too? Today, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. and the L.A. City Attorney reached a $1.8 million settlement with toy giant Mattel Inc., Fisher-Price and seven other companies that they claim will help protect the state’s youngest children from lead-tainted toys now, instead of two months from now when new federal safety standards take effect. That means that the Thomas the Tank Engine toys you buy for Christmas or Hannukah will, supposedly, be safe. Here’s the fine print: the agreement means “companies have pledged not to sell any toys they know contain lead.” Maybe we’re just feeling cynical and excessively snarky today, but hey, these companies claimed they hadn’t known Thomas and Sir Topham Hat were coated with unsafe levels of lead last year, when they recalled 21 million Chinese-made toys, so we’re not exactly jumping up and down over that promise.

The toy companies also agreed “to pay $550,000 for lead testing and improved consumer notification.” Um, folks? Half a million doesn’t go very far and “improved customer notification” is PR-speak for “we’ll let the Consumer Product Safety Commission send out press releases so newspapers can warn you about deadly toys.”

While it’s nice to see that the federal government lowered the lead standard – and yes, California’s pact puts that into effect early – it seems to have escaped the notice of the ecstatic state Attorney General, the federal folks and the wily PR-savvy toymakers that the problem was not that the allowable lead level was too high. There was so little manufacturing oversight, toys were showing up on this side of the pond bearing lead levels wayyyy over the existing allowable limit. So, go ahead and set the limit lower if you’d like. Heck, set it at zero. None of this makes any difference if no one’s policing the factories. And $1.8 million to settle a major lawsuit involving massive corporations? Heck, that’s latte money.

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