Aug. 6, 2007 -- On the heels of scares over pet food, toothpaste and tires, another Chinese import has caused serious concern.
Toy-making giant Mattel recalled about a million of its most popular toys because they were painted with paint containing lead.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission said parents should take the toys away from children immediately.
The lead paint on 83 different Mattel toys didn't come to light until a European retailer reported it. The company's voluntary recall is just the latest blemish for China's exports.
There have been six different recalls of Chinese-made toys since March, including a million and a half high-end Thomas and Friends trains.
Sixty percent of the products recalled so far this year were made in China, according to the CPSC. The Toy Industry Association estimates that 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are made in China.
The CPSC has issued 18 recalls of children's jewelry containing lead, all of them were made in China.
"The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been working with Chinese manufacturers as well as the Chinese government to make sure that they understand that there are rules, there are regulations and there are safety concerns that Chinese manufacturers need to abide by," said Julie Vallese, of the CPSC.
Lead Dangers and Legislation
Even small amounts of lead are harmful to children. As it builds up in the body, it can cause brain damage, literally reducing a child's intelligence. Lead also can prompt irritability and agitation that last a lifetime.
"When lead gets into the brain, it causes dysfunction, leading to cognitive deficits, memory problems," said Cedars-Sinai Medical Center chief of staff Paul Silka. "If it builds up long enough, you can even see progression to coma."
The CPSC doesn't have the authority to test products before they go on the market and it doesn't have the staff to conduct extensive inspections. Instead, it relies mostly on manufacturers to report problems with their products. Now lawmakers have taken notice.
"There's a boiling point coming in the Congress, coming from the people of America saying we need to do better," said Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y.
Technically, lead in children's products isn't illegal, although lead paint on products is. In May, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., reintroduced a bill that would require the CPSC to ban any children's product that contains more than trace amounts of lead. The CPSC also is proposing new rules to crack down on lead.
Go to the CPSC's Web site for additional information on recalls. Look up its list of recalled toys and purge them from your house. Usually, compensation is available, but that's besides the point.
If you have other toys that worry you, even though they haven't been recalled, you could try a home lead test kit. The kits are not 100 percent accurate. So, if in doubt, throw it out.
Also, avoid buying products like vending machine trinkets, cheap children's jewelry. Fake pearl necklaces are often coated in lead paint and painted toys.
Finally, get your child's blood tested for lead annually. Last week, authorities recommended, if you own any of the recently recalled products, to get a blood test now.
Even if your child's lead level is below the federal standard, he or she may not be in the clear. Many private safety advocates said the government standard is too lax.