Mattel, Fisher-Price Pay Big Fines Over Lead Tainted Toys

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Mattel and its wholly owned subsidiary, Fisher Price Inc, have agreed to pay a $2.3 million civil penalty for violating the federal <"">lead paint ban, reported the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The civil penalty, the highest for violations involving importation or distribution in commerce of a regulated product, is the third highest in CPSC history.

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The penalty settlement has been provisionally accepted by the Commission and resolves CPSC staff allegations that Mattel and Fisher-Price knowingly—as defined in the Consumer Product Safety Act—imported and sold children’s toys with paints or other surface coatings that contained lead levels that violated a 30-year-old federal law. In 1978, a federal ban was put in place prohibiting toys and other children’s articles from having more than 0.06 percent lead (by weight) in paints or surface coatings. In 2007, about 95 Mattel and Fisher-Price toy models were determined to have exceeded this limit.

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Lead exposure can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems in children and unborn children. Even at very low levels, lead is harmful to children’s health and at elevated blood lead levels children experience neurological problems, anemia, lower IQ scores, and shortened attention spans. At elevated levels, children can suffer from comas, seizures, and death.

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The civil penalty settles the following allegations:

*Mattel imported up to 900,000 non-compliant toys between September 2006 and August 2007, including the “Sarge” toy car and numerous Barbie accessory toys, distributing most of them to its retail customers for sale to U.S. consumers. The “Sarge” car was recalled in August 2007; the Barbie toys were recalled in September 2007. 

*Fisher-Price imported up to 1.1 million non-compliant toys between July 2006 and August 2007, including certain licensed character toys and the Bongo Band, GEO TRAX locomotive, and Go Diego Go Rescue Boat toys. Most of these toys were distributed to retail stores for sale to consumers. The licensed character toys were recalled in August 2007, the Bongo Band and GEO TRAX toys were recalled in September 2007, and the Go Diego Go Boat toys were recalled in October 2007.

“These highly publicized toy recalls helped spur Congressional action last year to strengthen CPSC and make even stricter the ban on lead paint on toys,” said CPSC Acting Chairman Thomas Moore. “This penalty should serve notice to toy makers that CPSC is committed to the safety of children, to reducing their exposure to lead, and to the implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.” The settlement resolves other potential matters. In agreeing to the settlement, Mattel and Fisher-Price deny that they knowingly violated federal law, as alleged by CPSC staff.

Late last year Mattel agreed to pay $12 million to 39 U.S. states to settle lead claims regarding its toys, ending a multi-state, 15-month lead probe of a variety of Chinese-manufactured Mattel toys, including its Sesame Street dolls, Dora the Explorer accessories, and a variety of other products shipped to the U.S., according to a prior Bloomberg News report. The toys apparently never made it to store shelves.

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