Chinese toys: A recall scare - Popular train sets are the latest target of safety act

Dec 8, 2004
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#1
Chinese toys: A recall scare

Popular train sets are the latest target of safety action by U.S.

By ERIC LIPTON AND DAVID BARBOZA
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON -- Every one of the 24 toys recalled for safety reasons in the United States so far this year, including the enormously popular Thomas and Friends wooden train sets, was manufactured in China, a record that is increasingly causing alarm among consumer advocates, parents and regulators.
The latest recall, announced last week, involves 1.5 million Thomas and Friends trains and rail sets -- or about 4 percent of all those sold in the United States over the past two years -- that were coated at a factory in China with potentially poisonous lead paint.
In just last past month, a so-called Floating Eyeballs toy made in China was recalled after it was found to be filled with kerosene, sets of toy drums and a toy bear were recalled because of lead paint and an infant wrist rattle was recalled because of a choking hazard.
Combined with the recent scares related to Chinese-made pet food, and globally about Chinese-made pharmaceuticals and toothpaste, the string of toy recalls is inspiring demands for stepped-up enforcement of toy safety by U.S. regulators and importers, as well as the government and industry in China.
"These are items that children are supposed to be playing with," said Prescott Carlson, co-founder of a Web site called The Imperfect Parent, which includes a section that tracks recalls of toys and other baby products. "It should be at a point where companies in the United States that are importing these items are held liable."
A spokeswoman for RC2 Corp. of Illinois, the manufacturer of the Thomas Wooden Railway system, declined to comment.
The number of products made in China that are being recalled in the United States by the Consumer Product Safety Commission has doubled in the last five years, driving the overall number of recalls in the country to a record level.
It has meant that China today is responsible for about 60 percent of the overall product recalls, compared with 36 percent in 2000.
Julie Vallese, a Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman, said the agency recognizes more must be done to prevent the importation of hazardous toys, and other products, from China.
"It is a big concern. And the agency is taking steps to try to address that as quickly as possible," Vallese said. "Their businesses will suffer if they don't meet safety standards."
But some consumer advocates say that under the Bush administration, the opposite is happening, as the commission staff has been cut in recent years by more than 10 percent, leaving fewer regulators to monitor safety of the growing flood of imports.
"They don't have the staff that they need to try to get ahead of this problem," said Janell Mayo Duncan, senior counsel at the Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. "They need more money and resources to do more checks."
Much of the rise in China's ranking on the recall list has to do with its corresponding surge as the source of so many products sold in the United States: Toys made in China make up 70 percent to 80 percent of the toys sold in the country, according to the Toy Industry Association.
In Seattle, recalled items from the Thomas and Friends line were immediately pulled off the shelves of many toy stores.
Judy Beuche, owner of Pinocchio's Toys near University Village, was impressed with how quickly company representatives alerted her of the recall. But she's concerned that the suspect products had been sold since January 2005.
"That, as a parent, bothers me," she said. "I'm hoping (the recall) makes everyone take a better view of the quality control of products."
Some customers were disappointed Monday.
"When you think Thomas, you think safety and fun," said Mary Falcone, a Pinocchio's customer who works as a nurse at Harborview Medical Center. "Not anymore."
Falcone said the recall will make her think twice before purchasing toys. "I probably wouldn't buy it if it said 'Made in China,' which is unfortunate because I really like Thomas."
The problem is most acute with low-price, no-name toys that are often sold at dollar stores and other deep discounters, as they are manufactured and sent to the United States often without the involvement of major American toy importers.
China is also the source of 81 percent of the counterfeit goods seized last year at ports of entry in the United States -- products that typically are not made to standards of the labels they are copying.
But in the case of Thomas and Friends, the toy trains and railroad pieces are made directly for RC2 at plants it operates in China, giving it presumably more control over the quality and safety of the product. Staci Rubinstein, a RC2 executive, declined Monday to comment on safety control measures at its plants in China.
A pair of workers at one of the company's factories in Dongguan -- who were paid about $150 a month to spray paint toy trains six days a week -- said they did not know whether the paint they used contained lead.
"We're just doing the painting," says Li Hong, a 22-year-old factory worker who was sitting out in front of the factory zone dormitories. Li and a colleague said they believed the paint they used was produced internally by an affiliated company based inside the huge RC2 toy factory zone.
Exactly who actually runs the Licheng factory, which is one of several RC2 factories based in Dongguan, is unclear. The factory bears the name RC2, but the factory's Web site say it is operated by Chinese entrepreneurs.
Scott Wolfson, a second Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesman, would not say how long ago RC2 discovered the problem or when it first reported it to federal authorities.
The toy industry in the United States is largely self-regulated, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission has only about 100 field investigators and compliance staff members nationwide to conducting inspections at ports, warehouse and stores, not only of toys, but all consumer products.
The Toy Industry Association urges its members to routinely test products it is importing, to make sure they comply with federal safety standards, which prohibit, for example, surface paint that contains lead in toys. In most cases, recalls are voluntarily issued by the toy company, which typically discovers the safety issue based on complaints or internal tests.
The string of recent recalls of toys from China -- most frequently for lead paint -- has caught the attention of some consumer watchdogs and parenting advice columnists, such as Imperfect Parent.
"Do I have to look at every toy that has paint on it that comes from China as perhaps suspect?" said Carlson, of Imperfect Parent. "It makes me incredibly hesitant."
Duncan of Consumers Union urged parents to sign up for the Consumer Product Safety Commission's automated notification system, so they can stay on top of which toys are being recalled.
Vallese, the safety commission spokeswoman, said the agency's acting chairwoman, Nancy Nord, went to China in May for a meeting with her counterparts in China, focusing in particular on toys, lighters, electronics and fireworks.
"Is there a concern that there are more products coming in from China and making sure they live up to the standards we expect," Vallese said.
"Yes there is, and we understand our authority and obligation and we will make sure we enforce it."
But parents shopping at toy stores in New York and Chicago over the weekend said the whole episode leaves them uneasy.
"I think it's terrible," said Chris Gunster, 41, at the Thomas display area in Toys R Us in New York City, with his wife and 4-year-old son, James, a fan of the toy trains. "Lead paint in this day and age?"
UNSAFE TOYS

For more information on recalled toys, visit goto.seattlepi.com/r807

P-I reporter Meghan Peters contributed to this report.
Soundoff (3 comments)
What do you think?


http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/320359_chinatoys19.html
Charming...
 

abudabit

New Wackbag
Oct 10, 2004
14,802
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0
#2
They could just relabel them Floating Eyeball My Little Hand Grenades.
 

abudabit

New Wackbag
Oct 10, 2004
14,802
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0
#4
We could poison our universities.
 
Dec 8, 2004
49,826
21,443
763
Maine
#5
The toy industry in the United States is largely self-regulated, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission has only about 100 field investigators and compliance staff members nationwide to conducting inspections at ports, warehouse and stores, not only of toys, but all consumer products.
Just noticed that little tidbit...
 

Budyzir

There's nothing quite like a shorn scrotum.
Nov 12, 2004
7,307
1
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Queens, NY
#6
This is what happens when you outsource to the lowest bidder in a corrupt country with essentially no sense of safety. And, in the mean time American craftsmanship is suffers.

Does anyone remember; “Look for the union label…”
 

Taintkisser

has anyone seen my NAZI Helmet?
Feb 15, 2006
216
7
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Dix Hills
#7
This is what happens when you outsource to the lowest bidder in a corrupt country with essentially no sense of safety. And, in the mean time American craftsmanship is suffers.

Does anyone remember; “Look for the union label…”
agreed, however, as americans we dont want to pay the higher costs of goods made here. Look at walmart!!! almost all the crap in their stores is made in some third world asian country most americans dont even know where onthe map it even is!!!!
 

Stormrider666

Hell is home.
Mar 19, 2005
28,285
2,884
673
Bronx, NY
#9
My nephew has hundreds of Thomas the Train toys, spread over three houses. So far I know at my mother's house, she found 3 of the trains, that need to be sent back. I would rather take all the trains and start throwing them at the Chinese embassy.
 

Creampier

I have to return some videotapes!
May 11, 2007
748
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Somerville, NJ
#10
Why has this just recently become a problem/phenomenon with the chinks?!

These stupid little trains
The antifreeze in the mouthwash
The toothpaste in the shady bodegas
And that dog/cat food scare

Time to cut back on the federal aid a 'lil, ya think?!
 

abudabit

New Wackbag
Oct 10, 2004
14,802
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#11
They make up such a huge % of the 3rd world type products we get though, so it's hard to tell if China is really any more wreckless than all the other 3rd world industrial countries.
 

bethm1b

person of interest
Dec 1, 2006
2,606
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Just past the line.
#13
After WW2 this country manufactured 40% of the worlds goods whil having 6% of the worlds population. What the hell happened?
 
Dec 8, 2004
49,826
21,443
763
Maine
#14
After WW2 this country manufactured 40% of the worlds goods whil having 6% of the worlds population. What the hell happened?
My buddy is a tool and die maker... well actually now he sources automotive molds... he can get 3 made in China cheaper then he can get one made here (being US and Canada)... so even if the Chinese mold craps out... he has two spares available... when he was on the shop floor... actually making molds... his compatriots were well European... meaning Swiss, German, Austrian, Hungarian etc... in those countries that "trade" was looked upon highly. Not here though... here it is considered a "blue collar" job...


He did mention he went to a small shop in China, that had 10 000 workers, they get paid like a buck twenty five an hour doing whatever... the really scary thing is he went to a plant and asked why the smoke stacks were spewing white smoke... and asked what fuel they are using... the guy replied kerosene... gah.


Oh one other charming fact is that the Chinese middle class is starting to buy cars now (typically SUVs etc)... and China still uses leaded gasoline.

Again this is why I moved to Maine:)