At Toy Stores, Recall Casts Doubt on Trusted Friends
Friday, August 3, 2007
Tammi Houton, like a lot of parents yesterday, found herself surprised that peril could lurk behind some of the most familiar faces in children's toys. Elmo? Dora the Explorer? SpongeBob SquarePants?
All were part of a worldwide safety recall of 83 types of Fisher-Price toys deemed potentially hazardous because of lead-tainted paint. In all, nearly 1 million toys were recalled in the United States.
"It's really alarming," said Houton, a mother of three shopping for a birthday gift yesterday in the Toys R Us in Rockville. In toys for young children -- who put everything in their mouths and for whom lead is a well-known hazard -- "it's about the worst thing you could do," she said.
For Houton and others, what made the recall especially troubling was the source of the problem: a manufacturer in China. Just seven weeks ago, there was a recall of 1.5 million Chinese-made Thomas & Friends train toys. Last spring, pet owners across the country panicked amid the largest pet food recall in U.S. history, traced to contaminated ingredients from China. There have also been scares recently about unhealthy seafood, shoddy car tires and other products from China.
"It does make me worry whether anything else I have in the house is really safe," Houton said. So much comes from China, she said, as she read the small print on the gift she had just bought, a Barbie Dream House. It, too, was made in China, she said.
"What do you do?" she said. "What do you trust or not trust?"
At a Target in Leesburg, Courtney Troiano said she has become more wary of Chinese goods. "It's one thing if they say they're meeting the regulations, but how often do they go in and inspect?" said Troiano, of Leesburg, as her daughter Claire, 4, moved the arms of a plastic Sing Around the World Dora doll.
Her concerns about food, toys and other items from China seemed to be hitting a tipping point. "Recently with the tainted food, I guess you have to think about where it's coming from," Troiano said.
Consumer advocates, noting that lead was banned from the paint on children's toys in 1978, called for a tighter system of inspections and suggested that parents immediately take away any toys included in the recall. Lead is toxic when ingested, and experts say it can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
The toys at issue in the wide-ranging recall read like a wish list for preschoolers, including Dora's Talking House, Cookie Monster Saxophone and Sesame Street Shape Sorter. But the recall only covered the 83 items sold from May to August under the Fisher-Price line of toymaker Mattel.
"I think the problem is that . . . as American manufacturers are becoming more distant from the production of their products, these lapses in oversight are occurring more frequently," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America.
Parents had much the same feeling, as they learned of a potential risk in the seemingly most harmless of goods.