Safety issues concern parents, retailersWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
Consumers are concerned about toy recalls and product safety issues regarding lead paint on children’s toys and small parts that can be choking hazards as this year’s holiday shopping season begins. Retailers are reacting quickly to toy recalls, locally and nationally.
More than 21 million toys were recalled this year for lead paint or content, tiny magnets or parts that could be swallowed, or other potentially serious problems. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are made in more than 14,000 toy factories in China, according to the toy industry.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) conducted 61 toy recalls in 2007, 19 of which involved violations of the lead paint standard. The number of toy recalls was up from 40 in 2006 when only two involved lead.
Toymaker Mattel and its Fisher Price division had the largest number of toy recalls this year. All toy recalls are listed under “Toy Hazard Recalls.” on the commission’s Web site, www.cpsc.gov. More information about toy recalls and safety is available at www.toyinfo.org or by calling 1-888-884-TOYS.
The Ohio Art Company in Bryan has not had any issues with lead paint or recalls of any of its products. The company continues to be proactive in its commitment to toy product safety, according to E. Arthur Clark, vice president of manufacturing operations.
Currently, all Ohio Art toys are assembled and/or manufactured in China. Clark stated that all toy products are tested by independent certified laboratories to meet American Toy Safety Standards. Ohio Art makes the Etch-A-Sketch first introduced in 1960, the Betty Spaghetty dolls, K’s Kids products, Doodle Dog, Magna Doodle, and Plasticine reusable molding clay for children.
The issue of the toy recalls and product safety is on the minds of local consumers during this holiday shopping season.
One in three customers coming into WizardKids Toys in Maumee is asking about lead in toys and safety issues, said Dean Nelson, the store’s owner. Fortunately, his store does not stock any of the toys recalled so it was not affected directly.
WizardKids Toys depends more on American and German manufacturers of toys that carry the “CE mark” near the barcode that indicates they have passed stringent health and safety standards of the European Common Market, Nelson said.
Learning Express, a franchise billed as “your neighborhood toy store,” had a limited number of recalled products from Mattel and Fisher-Price. The store buys products from a number of countries including China, United States, Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Germany, Pakistan and Israel.
“People are coming to us because we’re a local specialty store with a loyal customer base that trusts us,” said Gary Fitzpatrick, owner of the Learning Express on Monroe Street in Sylvania, a new location in the Shops at Fallen Timbers and one in Ann Arbor.
Joseph Saine Toy Soldiers in Rossford sells antique toys dating from 1960 back into the 1800s, many of which are made of lead. The industry quit making toy soldiers out of lead in 1964 and most are made of plastic today, said Saine, who has seen resurgence in older toys recently.
“We have received numerous calls from consumers concerned about lead in toys,” said Dick Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau in Toledo that covers Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan.
“We either direct them to appropriate Web sites for retailers, manufacturers and the Consumer Products Safety Commission or we research it for them if they don’t have computers,” he said.
Eppstein advises parents to check the dates of recalls that could affect toys they already have in the home. The recalls have affected other products such as Christmas ornaments, children’s jewelry, books and notepad covers that contain lead in the coatings on such products.
“Parents need to make sure products are safe for children to use especially by age,” Eppstein said. The toy industry concurs reporting that too many children under the age of three are given toys designed for older ages which have resulted in numerous injuries to the younger kids.
Retail, toy industries react quickly to recalls
“Safety is and always has been the number one priority of the U.S. toy industry,” said Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association.
“For this holiday season, toy manufacturers and retailers are re-doubling their efforts. They are testing and retesting toys in order to reassure consumers in the safety of their products. As a result, there is more attention and scrutiny being applied to the toys sold in America than ever before,” Keithley said.
As America’s No. 1 retailer, Wal-Mart says it takes customer safety very seriously regarding the toy recalls by manufacturers and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The retailer is working closely with the commission and the Toy Industry Association to make this a safe holiday season, according to Mia Masten, director of public affairs in the Midwest for Wal-Mart.
The retailer launched a Toy Safety Net Program this summer that includes additional testing of toy products and working with industry and government leaders on safety standards. With this program, Wal-Mart has tested more than 12,000 toys since August starting with items children could put in their mouth, any with removable parts and any with possible lead in coatings.
Masten said that Wal-Mart is working with manufacturers and government leaders in China about implementing new testing procedures to ensure the highest safety standards for toy products made in that country.
Product safety continues to be a top priority for Target in dealing with the toy recalls, according to company spokesperson Amy Von Walter. The company enhanced its product safety program by implementing an improved testing process for its owned brand toys.
“We recognize consumers have questions about product safety, particularly about toys due to recent recalls. We are working with our vendors, industry leaders and the CPSC on product safety issues and are taking steps to ensure we have the best products in terms of safety and quality on our shelves,” said Von Walter.
Target posts signs listing recalled toys throughout its stores, information on www.Target.com with links to the CPSC and other Web sites. The retailer also sent emails to all customers who purchased recalled products online.
Officials from Target and Wal-Mart said they are vigilant about taking recalled toys off their shelves as quickly as the recalls are announced. Both retailers also block the item numbers of recalled products on their register systems so they cannot be purchased in case any were missed in the process.
Toys R Us Chairman and CEO Gerald Storch said “the important issue of toy safety is on the minds of many parents and reiterates our uncompromising commitment to the safety of the families we serve.”
“When a product is recalled, the most important thing is to get that product off the shelves and out of children’s hands,” Storch stated on the company’s Web site.
Toys R Us has instituted a “no quibble” policy regarding returns of recalled toys. The retailer will take back any recalled products with or without a receipt and whether it was purchased at Toys R Us, Storch said.
“We have always mandated that our manufacturers extensively test products for a variety of hazards,” Storch stated. The company engaged Bureau Veritas, a respected world leader in independent testing, to re-test products right off the retailer’s shelves.
The retail and toy industries are working in partnership with federal legislators to advocate more funding for the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the government regulator responsible for toy safety.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) supports laws to increase the size of the commission, which has the smallest staff in its history. She is a member of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over CPSC and FDA budgets.
Kaptur said that even with the proposed budget increases, more than 90 percent of imported products would not be inspected.
“The real answer is fair and balanced trade with a rule of law with international torts,” Kaptur said. “We need to hold the exporter and importer legally responsible for punitive and compensatory damages.”
Kaptur previously has voiced skepticism about the enforcement of product safety and other manufacturing standards in China.
“Just because it’s made in China doesn’t mean it’s not safe,” said Fitzpatrick of Learning Express. He said his store only buys from reputable manufacturers in China.
“There is a definite anti-Chinese sentiment among consumers. It’s not so much where they are made but how they are tested,” Nelson said about imported toys. Less than half the products stocked at WizardKids Toys are made in China.
Consumers should know that toys sold in the U.S. are highly regulated and the country has strict standards for toy safety. No matter where toys are made or by whom, if for sale in the United States, they must comply with our standards, according to the Toy Industry Association.
The toy industry is working with the CPSC and the American National Standards Institute to strengthen the enforcement system. The association adopted additional safety standards in September that include mandatory product testing that meets rigorous safety standards; implementing a system for testing by qualified, accredited laboratories; and providing open and direct communication and information to consumers.
The Michigan State Senate unanimously passed legislation Nov. 27 that will ban the sale or transfer of toys containing hazardous substances, such as lead. Senate Bill 174 prohibits a person from manufacturing, selling, or offering for sale to a retailer certain toys contaminated with toxic substances, including lead, and toys without a label containing the name and place of business of the manufacturer, distributor or importer. SB 174 has been forwarded to the state’s House of Representatives for consideration.
“It is imperative we prevent unsafe toys from reaching our homes. We must help protect our children and relieve parents’ anxiety over toys that are contaminated with lead,” said Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), co-sponsor of the bill.