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Toy may have high lead level

An activist group sends a complaint to Marvel, which markets the Curious George doll.

October 11, 2007|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

That little monkey is in trouble again. This time, a Curious George doll has found itself in the middle of national worries about lead contamination in toys.

Alarmed by new testing that reportedly found high levels of contamination in the doll, a group of activists is brandishing California's Proposition 65 environmental law in its drive to get lead out of the toy chest.

The Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health, which has been at the forefront of a recent drive to pull lead-tainted toys, lunchboxes, candy and children's jewelry from stores, sent a legal complaint to Marvel Entertainment Inc., which markets the Curious George Birthday doll.

The goal of the litigation is to spur companies "to get the lead out of the product and have mandatory testing regimes to ensure the lead stays out of the products," said Michael Green, Environmental Health's director. Aggressive testing is needed "before the products get on shelves, instead of having endless recalls after they are in the hands of kids."

Lead has been identified by the state as causing cancer and birth defects. It also can contribute to brain and neurological problems, especially in children. Proposition 65, an initiative approved by voters in 1986 known as the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, requires manufacturers or retailers to post warning notices on all such products.

In its complaint, Environmental Health accused Marvel of failing to post notices on its Curious George packaging warning that the doll had paint and plastic components that contain lead. The center said its testing showed one doll contained 6,000 parts per million of lead, more than 10 times the legal limit.

A spokesman for Marvel said his company had halted all shipments of the doll and was pulling samples from its Chinese supplier for testing. He said the product would be recalled voluntarily if the testing confirmed Environmental Health's findings.

A recall, however, wouldn't allay the fears of Gina Schreiner of Albuquerque. The plush doll with a plastic face has been the "absolutely favorite toy" of her 2-year-old son for about the last year. "I'm a little nervous," said Schreiner, who plans to have her child checked for lead.

In a related complaint filed Wednesday, Environmental Health accused Sassafras Enterprises Inc., a Chicago gift products company, of not putting legally required warnings on soft vinyl lunch bags allegedly contaminated with lead. A spokeswoman for Sassafras said it had stopped shipping the lunch bags, pulled them from its website and begun retesting the product.

The legal notices sent by the center also accuse Toys R Us Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sears Holdings Corp.'s Sears and Kmart stores, K-B Toys Inc., Target Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp. and other large retailers of failing to provide notice on a number of toys and other items that are used by children.

The toys, manufactured outside the U.S., include train sets, building blocks, carts and children's gardening tools, according to the complaints.

Under California law, the attorney general has 60 days to take action against the companies named in the center's complaint. The attorney general also has the option to join the center's attorneys in pursuing the case or to allow the center to act independently on behalf of the state.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Edward Weil said the new Environmental Health complaints might be settled out of court along the lines of cases involving importers of lead-tainted children's jewelry that were resolved in June 2006.

"I would be very surprised if the toy manufacturers want to sell toys with a lead warning," Weil said. "They will do whatever needs to be done so their product does not require a warning."

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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