Mattel Settles With 39 States Over Toxic Lead in Toys

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Mattel Settles With 39 States Over Toxic Lead in Toys

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 15, 2008 (ENS) - Giant toy maker Mattel, and its subsidiary, Fisher-Price, today reached a legal settlement with 39 states, resolving a 15 month investigation into the events that led to a voluntary recall of the companies' toys for excessive lead paint in 2007.

The consent judgment, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, requires Mattel to make a payment of $12 million by Janary 30, 2009, to be divided among the participating states.

Other states participating in today's agreement are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The toys containing lead were all pulled off store shelves by December 2007, and the consent judgment provides protections against future harm for toys now being manufactured.

As the leader of the multi-state group investigation and settlement, Massachusetts will receive $625,000 as a result of the settlement. Of that amount, $500,000 will be dedicated to combating and preventing childhood lead poisoning and $125,000 will cover the costs of the investigation.

"Lead is highly toxic, particularly to young children. Higher exposures to lead, such as the levels found in these toys, can cause grave health problems," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

"This agreement also includes important lead monitoring requirements that should prevent a similar public health scare from occurring in the future, in addition to funds that will be used for preventative efforts on the state level," Coakley said. "Our office looks forward to working with the Department of Public Health and public health organizations to use settlement funds to protect children from the dangers of lead poisoning."

From August 2, 2007, through October 25, 2007, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled approximately two million Mattel and Fisher-Price toys, all manufactured by contractors in China, because the toys contained excessive lead in accessible surface coatings and substrates. A substrate is the base substance a toy is made of that is distinct from the surface coating that covers a toy.

At the time of the recalls, the federal standard permitted for lead in accessible surface coatings was 600 parts per million. During the course of the states' investigation, authorities found that lead levels in the recalled toys not only exceeded the federal standard, but in some instances, tested over 10,000 ppm and 50,000 ppm.

The state attorneys general investigated how Mattel permitted these lead-tainted toys to enter the stream of commerce and whether Mattel's contracting and quality assurance processes were sufficient to guard against lead-tainted toys.

The agreement includes more stringent standards for accessible lead, in both surface coatings and substrates, effective for toys manufactured after November 30, 2008. Under the settlement, the new standards are 90 ppm for lead paint and surface coatings, and 300 ppm total lead for substrates.

"Mattel has demonstrated its commitment to children's safety by pledging to meet standards even more stringent than those currently required," the El Segundo, California toy company said in a statement. "Mattel also has taken steps that go beyond current requirements to give parents greater confidence that the Mattel toys that they buy this holiday season will be the safest ever."

Since the attorneys general first contacted Mattel in August 2007, Congress enacted the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which requires more stringent standards for lead in surface coatings and substrates, effective in February 2009.

Under the judgment filed today, Mattel must phase in more stringent standards ahead of the timelines provided by the new law. Mattel is also required to notify the attorneys general if it confirms excessive lead in any of its products in violation of state or federal law, or the consent judgment, and to work with the attorneys general to remedy such violations.

Under the consent judgment, should Mattel sell toys in the future that surpass the judgment's lead standards, that conduct would constitute contempt of the judgment as well as a violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

"The attorneys general's victory in this settlement will provide valuable resources to community-based organizations that are working to reduce the risk of lead poisoning among the most vulnerable children in the state," said Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach.

"Along with the steps to strengthen the national protections against lead in children's toys these efforts will assist parents in insuring their children are not exposed to toxic environmental substances," he said.

The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office will use the bulk of the money recovered to fund a grant program to combat and prevent childhood lead poisoning in cooperation with the Department of Public Health.

Up to 10 one-year grants in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 will be distributed to geographically diverse community health or nonprofit organizations throughout Massachusetts.

Lead, at any level, is dangerous in the body. Very small amounts of lead can cause neurological damage, drops in IQ and long term behavioral problems. Higher exposures can lead to seizures, coma or death.

Lead poisoning is cumulative and most children who have it do not look or act sick. Early signs of lead poisoning include upset stomach, trouble eating or sleeping, headache or trouble paying attention.

While all affected toys have been removed from the market, consumers who are concerned that a toy they purchased may be affected can cross check the SKU number on the toy with the recall list on Mattel's website, www.mattel.com, or by calling Mattel at 1-800-916-4498.

{Photo: The Elmo Light Up Musical Pal, manufactured in China for Fisher-Price, is one of the recalled toys.(Photo courtesy Mattel)

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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