The attorneys for the manufactures and fast-food chains were livid because three government agencies were about to issue a press release saying the government was going to investigate the safety of drinking glasses decorated with decals.

The lawyers trooped into federal court here with an extraordinary request that a judge block the issurance of the release, saying their business would be harmed if the probe became public in that form.

At the same time they filed a copy of the offending release - making it a public record anyway and probably giving it more publicity than it would have received if it had been issued in the normal course of business by the government agencies.

U.S. District Judge Howard Corcoran denied the request that he block the press release from being issued, saying the government had an obligation to keep the public informed of such actions.

The suit grew out of a continuing controversy over the safety of glasses that are decorated on the outside with cartoon characters, flowers and other designs as promotional materials by fast-food chains, and are often used to package foods such as jellies and jams.

The Massachusetts Health Department labeled the glasses as health hazards, claiming the paint contain too much lead, which is toxic.

McDonald's hamburger chain temporarily halted distribution of the glasses, but began distributing them again after the Federal Food and Drug Administration said the glasses appeared to be safe because there was no evidence that the lead could get inside the glasses.

However, at the same time the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission decided to issue a press release announcing a joint investigation of the glass decals.

The release makes it clear that there is no evidence that the lead can contaminate food inside the glass, but suggested that small children should be watched when they use the glasses to make sure they don't lick the outside where the decals are located.

Attorneys for Owen-Illinois, which makes the glasses, and the Foodservice and Lodging Institute, the fast-food trade association, said the press release was alarmist and left the impression that there was evidence the glasses could be dangerous.

Attorney Robert Altman pointed out that the process has been used on billions of glasses in the last 50 years, and said the release could cause adverse consumer reaction.

Judge Corcoran read the press release aloud and commented to Altman, "It says tests show no evidence that the decals are harmful."

"But it says to use care ..." Atlman said.

"Is there anything wrong with that?" Corcoran asked.

"There's no compelling need fo the agency to create alarm" by issuing such a statement, Atlman replied.

Corcoran agreed with government attorneys that the release was permissible, after one of them pointed out that for a judge to stop the issuance of a press release would stand the First Amendment on its head."