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Recalled toys and lead paint: Has Mattel lost control of product safety?

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Hong KongThis month Mattel Inc. recalled nearly 19 million Chinese-made toys suspected of containing leaded paint or small magnets posing a choking hazard for small children. Anxious U.S. parents don't know whether these products have injured their children, and a lawsuit has been started with the aim of forcing Mattel to set up a fund to pay for individual testing.

Lead in paint is highly toxic, and especially so for young children. It can cause brain damage, learning disabilities and neuropsychological impairments. Children who have been exposed to lead may not show symptoms for years. Because of this, parents of children who may have played with toxic toys are urged to have the children tested as soon as possible.

Mattel sick childJeffrey Killino, the Philadelphia attorney who filed the lawsuit against Mattel in Los Angeles Superior Court, has been quoted as saying: "Recalling the toys is only a first step. Replacing them costs Mattel pennies. If Mattel is really concerned about the safety of children, then it should address the root of the issue—determining how many children were affected by these poisoned toys so that they can get immediate treatment. Only then can parents have true peace of mind."

But Mattel's problem is not restricted to this particular recall of toys.

What we are learning is that, in an effort to keep their costs as low as possible, Mattel and the other big toymakers have basically handed over their toy production to the Chinese. It's part of the widespread move by corporate America to "outsource", that is, to have its work done by workers in other countries who will work for less. Those workers include millions of low-paid workers in China. In the process, US toy companies and Chinese manufacturers have become deeply interdependent.

About 80% of all toys sold worldwide are made in China. Chinese toymakers keep at least 4 million workers busy in thousands of factories, according to estimates. And it's not just toys we are getting from China. American imports of Chinese-made products rose to $288 billion in 2006, almost triple the total from 2001.

The Chinese manufacturing world involves layers and layers of interconnected specialized manufacturers and producers. It is a highly efficient system, but quality control and product safety may fall through the cracks at many points along the way. Up until now, toys sold in America have been required to meet federal safety standards, but actual presale testing has been voluntary. Now there is a call to government both in China and in the United States for better inspection and testing of toys. In the meantime, the Chinese factories will keep on churning out the toys. At the moment China is unbeatable when it comes to efficiency and low cost in toy production.

To learn whether any of your child's toys, at home, daycare or anywhere else, may have been contaminated with lead, you can start by checking at Mattel's website for the recall, which is at http://www.mattel.com/safety/us/. Mattel is offering to pay consumers' costs of returning the toys, with or without an invoice, and to provide a voucher to compensate for the cost of each toy.

Mattel Toy Recalls Legal Help

If your child has suffered damages in this lead poisoning case, please contact a lawyer involved in a possible [Mattel Toy Recalls Lawsuit] who will review your case at no cost or obligation.

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