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Greg Webb
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Toxic Toys from China… With Love

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The Detroit News is calling readers’ attention to the toxic toys pouring into this country from China.  This isn’t news to people who have been following the trend in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s toy recalls.  But it always surprises us that everything– from lead-painted candles to jewelry and toys, to furry plush stuffed animals tainted with cadmium– has passed through U.S. portals into our children’s toy boxes with relative ease.  The public doesn’t know a toy is dangerous until a child gets hurt or there’s the report of a serious complaint and a subsequent recall takes place—but sometimes, it takes more than one incident or injury to be reported before a recall is issued. 

Serious infractions of safety in children’s products, The Detroit News' Brett Decker points out, include Tween Brands’ Chinese-made jewelry marketed to children 12 years old and under for containing the chemical cadmium, a dangerous heavy metal. The state of California limits cadmium content in jewelry to only 0.03 percent. The recalled Tween Brands jewelry had cadmium levels of up to 69 percent. Some Chinese products recalled by the CPSC had cadmium levels of more than 90 percent.

Decker also noted that a 3-year old study by Healthtoys.org indicated that 21 percent of toys made in China contain lead.  So many toys imported from China contain lead in some fashion that currently cities like Minneapolis and others are providing free toy-testing for parents to make sure their children’s toys don't contain lead.

In November 2011, toys manufactured in China containing choking hazards were recalled.  The Toulouse-Lap-Trec Magnetic Sketch Boards imported by the New York firm Battat Inc., were manufactured in China and sold by Target Stores nationwide from March 2010 through March 2011. They were a real hit at only $16 and approximately 95,000 were sold. The hazard is the magnetic tip of the drawing pen which can become detached from the pen, posing a choking hazard to young children.  Battat has received 19 reports of the magnetic tip detaching from the pen, and, fortunately, thus far, no reports of injuries.

Chinese toys have even tainted some American toy brand lines, such as Sesame Street Elmo and Dora, The Explorer. In 2007, one of the largest toy-makers, Mattel, had to recall 18.6 million toys made in China for containing lead or dangerous magnets. Also in 2007, Fisher Price recalled over 1.6 million Chinese-made toys due to the presence of lead.

So, it isn’t news that Chinese toys are often toxic, but the news is that the trend may not get better due to the toy makers’ economy-of-scale.  Chinese toy factory expenses are going up as Chinese workers’ wages rise. Because toy makers want to retain their competitive advantage, they may not charge more for their toys, but may be tempted to cut quality corners.  So parents need to continue to be vigilant when buying toys, and consumers can expect more Chinese toy recalls in the future.

Lastly, to make matters worse, if an American citizen is injured by a Chinese product, it is extremely difficult to find out which Chinese manufacturer to sue (i.e., who actually made the product), and, if one is lucky enough to figure that out, getting jurisdiction over that defendant in the United States and holding it accountable is just shy of impossible. Chinese manufacturers can effectively injure and kill with little recourse available to the victims here at home, thanks in large part to legal advice the Chinese companies receive from large American law firms (civil defense firms) who advise them on how to avoid being held responsible, and how to play shell games with many different corporate structures. Hopefully, Congress will act some day to make jurisdiction, and accountability, over these companies easier to obtain. Until then, it is like the Wild West when it comes to many Chinese products.