Cummings tells Mattel to get lead out of toys

Lawmaker faults company, Bush administration

December 21, 2007|By David Kohn | David Kohn,Sun reporter

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings announced yesterday that he has asked Mattel Inc. to stop using lead in its toys.

Speaking at a news conference at the Union Baptist Head Start Center on Druid Hill Avenue, the Baltimore Democrat accused the company of not doing enough to keep children safe.

He focused on the Fisher Price Medical Kit, which according to research by Consumer Reports, contained pieces with lead concentration five times the federal standard. Fisher Price is a subsidiary of Mattel.

Since Consumer Reports released its report in November, the company has continued to sell the product, insisting that it is safe.

After pressure from the state of Illinois, the company removed the product from shelves there. Amazon.com and Toys `R' Us have stopped selling the toy nationally. But the company has not recalled the product.

"If it is not fit for children in Illinois, it is not fit for children in Maryland," Cummings said. The Consumer Reports analysis found that a blood pressure cuff in the kit had lead concentrations of up to 10,000 parts per million. The federal maximum is 600 parts per million.

Cummings was joined at the news conference by Olivia Farrow, the Baltimore Health Department's assistant commissioner for environmental health, and Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the National Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

Mattel officials said they had tested the blood pressure cuff and did not find the high levels of lead that Consumer Reports detected.

"The red blood pressure cuff in the Fisher-Price Medical Kit is fully compliant with all federal and international standards. While the medical kit has been removed from retail shelves in Illinois, due to the state's unique statutes, it is still available at retailers in other states," said Mattel spokesperson Juliette Reashor.

However, she did not say what levels of lead Mattel had detected.

The medical kit is one of dozens of toys, many manufactured in China, that have been found to contain risky levels of lead over the past few months.

Critics have accused the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission of failing to protect American children from the danger. Yesterday, Cummings and Norton joined in, saying the CPSC has failed to protect America's children.

"Under the current administration, the CPSC's oversight of safety can best be described as lax. Only 15 inspectors are policing the hundreds of points of entry for our imported toys," Cummings said. "Eighty percent of toys in the U.S. are imported from China."

The CPSC also insisted yesterday that the medical kit was safe. "Our findings are not consistent with Consumer Reports'," said Patty Davis, a CPSC spokeswoman. "We found that a child's health is not at risk." The CPSC also refused to release its test results.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill, co-sponsored by Cummings, that would expand the CPSC's authority. It would ban the importation of children's products that have not been tested and do not conform to U.S. standards. It also would add $17 million to the agency's budget.

david.kohn@baltsun.com

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