More than 25 million toys manufactured in China have been recalled in the past year, and more are expected to follow as toy manufacturers continue their investigations of products that may have lead contents which exceed the allowable limit in the United States.
How patriotic, and yet, I must admit, I purchased a Lego set for my niece this year. My other niece, nonetheless, actually asked for wooden building blocks or an erector set of some kind.
What do U.S. manufacturers think about the lead paint scare? Very few factories in the United States are even designed to manufacture children's toys today, since larger U.S. toy companies have outsourced to countries such as China and Korea for decades.
A recent survey conducted by Standard and Poor's Equity Research found that 25% of consumers said they were concerned about toy recalls, although 31% said they weren't too concerned, CNN Money reported. The S&P survey also attributed the subpar holiday season to the lack of a "must-have" toy, combined with hot demand for electronics such as Nintendo's Wii.
Toys 'R' Us experienced a strong start to the holiday season but saw erratic purchase levels midway through, which the toy store chain's CEO Gerald L. Storch attributed to the economy in an interview with the Associated Press.
Storch, when asked whether the risk of lead exposure in toys had been overblown, responded, "As we sit here today, the number one risk of lead exposure for children comes from house paint, primarily in substandard housing, but it can affect any older home where renovation work has been done and where lead is accessible.
"I heard some people argue that the lead on the toys is so small that statistically it presents a very small risk to your child," Storch continued. "That's probably true. Having said that, it is simply inexcusable for products not to meet the safety standards that have been established for them."
Mattel faces a class-action lawsuit because of the toys it has voluntarily recalled this year. Plaintiffs seek to compel Mattel to set up a fund for testing children who may have been exposed to the recalled products for lead poisoning, CNN Money reported. Each test would cost about $50.
Mattel's most recent recalls (in August) included a number of Fisher-Price's Nickelodeon and Sesame Street painted toys, including Dora the Explorer and Elmo toys. In the same month, Mattel also recalled a die-cast toy featuring the "Sarge" character from Disney's Toys. One million of the Fisher-Price toys were recalled, and 436,000 of the "Sarge" toys were recalled. Most of the toys manufactured had been shipped to U.S. vendors.
Toy manufacturers are paying attention to Capitol Hill regarding the matter. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is pursuing legislation to give more funding to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) so that they can hire more employees to perform more tests. The legislation would increase the maximum civil penalty for violations from $8,000 to $250,000 and the maximum civil penalty for a related series of violations from $1.825 million to $100 million. Violators would also face criminal penalties for repeat offenses. In addition, the CPSC would establish third party compliance certification for manufacturers and importers.
Dollar Tree made the most recent toy recall of about 300,000 Baby Toys Baby Bead & Wire Toys and Speed Racer Pull Back & Go Action! Cars. Do all those toys end up zooming on a sleigh daring perilous cliffs, or perhaps, succumb to a gigantic furnace deep inside a mountain? Perhaps, like the Grinch, lead paint will serve to remind us of what is really important this holiday season.
For more information about toy recalls, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website.