Attorney General Cuomo Keeps Dangerous Lead-contaminated Children's Products Off Westchester Store Shelves

WHITE PLAINS, NY (December 15, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced settlements with the owners of five Westchester County “dollar” stores and a supplier that were found to be selling children’s jewelry with dangerously high levels of lead.  The six settlements require the businesses to adopt strict safeguards that will keep lead-contaminated children’s jewelry off of store shelves.   

“Especially during the holiday season, parents should remember the dangers that even the smallest amounts of lead can pose to children,” said Attorney General Cuomo.  “The settlements reached with my office will help ensure that dangerous lead-contaminated products stay off store shelves in New York and out of the hands of our children.”

“I congratulate Attorney General Cuomo for his action that will keep these dangerous products out of the hands of our children.  When we first tested the children’s jewelry we were shocked at how high the lead content was.  We warned our residents not to purchase the items, but we had no legal way to actually prevent them from being sold.  Now, thanks to the Attorney General, the jewelry sold in these stores will be lead free.  It’s the best way to protect our kids,” said Westchester County Executive Andy Spano.

The Attorney General reached settlements with owners of a 99¢ More store, a Dollar Dream store, a Dollar World store, and two A Dollar stores, and the local wholesaler Jumbo Products.  According to the agreements, five of these companies will now adopt various measures to keep these products off store shelves, including far-reaching and strict vendor policies that require their suppliers to certify that they are in full compliance with federal and New York State laws prohibiting the sale of hazardous children’s products.  The sixth company, a 99¢ More store, will discontinue all sales of children’s jewelry.

The settlements stem from an investigation initiated in 2007 by the County of Westchester that tested the lead content of children’s jewelry purchased from several discount “dollar” stores located in Westchester County.  Roughly half the items tested during the investigation were found to contain dangerous levels of lead, with some containing more than 1,000 times the level currently regarded as safe by the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission. 

Also today, Attorney General Cuomo and a coalition of 38 states announced a settlement with toymaker Mattel and its subsidiary Fisher-Price requiring the companies to ensure that – effective immediately – all the toys they manufacture meet new, more stringent limits for lead in children’s products, well before these limits become effective nationally under new federal legislation.  The companies have also adopted more rigorous quality assurance procedures, including improved systems for identifying and eliminating products with excess lead levels, to help ensure the new limits are met.  As part of the settlement, Mattel will pay $12 million to the participating states, including over $340,000 to New York.

Today Cuomo issued a lead safety alert to New York parents for the holiday season.

Cuomo said, “Lead poisoning is one of the greatest threats to children’s health and safety in New York, but is also one of the most preventable.  Parents often don’t know that innocent-looking children’s products can contain dangerous levels of lead.  My office remains vigilant in our efforts to remove lead-contaminated items from the shelves of New York’s stores, and we are providing parents with easy-to-follow steps that they can take to help make their children’s holidays as safe and healthy as possible.”

Lead is toxic, especially to young children.  Chronic exposure to even small amounts of lead through ingestion or hand-to-mouth contact can cause a variety of permanent developmental and behavioral problems.  Ingesting lead can result in acute poisoning, seizures, respiratory failure, and death.

Today’s settlements are the latest examples of Cuomo’s efforts to combat children’s lead poisoning.  In November 2007, Cuomo reached settlements with several major national and regional retailers, distributors, and suppliers, requiring them to immediately end nationwide sales of children’s jewelry that contained dangerous levels of lead.  Cuomo’s work prompted six product recalls, covering more than 35 products and more than 500,000 individual items.

The Westchester settlements announced today were handled by Assistant Attorney General Lisa Kwong and Dr. Judith Schreiber, Chief Scientist for the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Special Deputy Attorney General Katherine Kennedy.  Gary Brown with the Westchester County Department of Consumer Protection and Andrew F. Neuman with Westchester County Executive Spano’s office conducted the investigations that led to these settlements.  The settlement with Mattel and Fisher-Price was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Mary Alestra and Lisa Kwong, under the supervision of Chief of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau Joy Feigenbaum and Special Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection Katherine Kennedy.

 

Tips for a Lead-Safe Holiday

The following are some tips on how you can help make your children’s holiday lead-safe:

  • Check for Recalls: Before shopping, check the websites of the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (www.cpsc.gov) and the New York State Department of Health (www.health.state.ny.us) for a list of products that have been recalled due to lead contamination and other child safety concerns.  If you already own one of the listed products, either discard it or return it to the place of purchase for a refund. 
  • Buy Smart: Examine items, particularly for metal toy jewelry, closely before you buy.  If the item is inexpensive yet is heavy for its size and looks like silver, it is possible that the item contains lead.  Some experts recommend that all metal children’s jewelry be avoided since it is difficult for consumers to determine its lead content without testing.  Also be aware of other hazards such as small parts and magnets.
  • Consider Testing Items of Concern: If you have children’s products in your home that you’re concerned about, consider testing them with consumer lead test kits available at many stores.  While these kits have varying degrees of accuracy, and are not as specific as laboratory analysis, they can be used to determine whether dangerous levels of lead may be present. 

  • Observe Your Children: Lead is often on the surface of toys, such as painted items, lead-containing vinyl items which have aged or become tattered, or jewelry with little or no coating.  Because of this, there is a potential for children to be exposed to lead when they mouth contaminated toys or touch their fingers to their mouths after handling them.  Watch your children as they play and encourage them to keep all toys out of their mouths.  Frequent hand washing will also help reduce lead intake.  
  • Talk to Your Children’s Doctor: Exposure to lead in children’s products – as well as in paint – can result in elevated blood lead levels and related health concerns.  A blood test that indicates exposure to lead will not tell if the lead came from children’s toys or from leaded paint, but it will provide information to guide parents to take precautions to prevent continuing exposure.  A blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or higher indicates lead poisoning and requires follow-up by your health care provider. 

For more information, visit the Attorney General’s website at http://www.ag.ny.gov/ or contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

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