Selling Recalled Toys Should be a Crime, New York Lawmaker Says

Selling recalled toys would be a crime in New York if one state lawmaker has his way.  The proposed toy recall law comes in response to what has been dubbed the “year of the recall” by some, as millions of dangerous toys have been removed from the market.  Yet despite widely published toy recalls, many recalled items are still being found on store shelves, potentially placing millions of children in serious danger.

Toy safety has received a great deal of attention this year. Since August, toy giant Mattel has issued 3 separate toy recalls for products contaminated with lead and others made with dangerous magnets.  In June, the RC2 Company recalled more than 1 million lead-tainted Thomas and Friends toy trains. Children’s jewelry and character notebooks have also been recalled for the same reason.  Another popular toy, Aqua Dots, was recalled in November because it contained a chemical known as a “date rape drug.”

But recalls are often not enough to insure that unsafe toys don’t make it into the hands of children.   Just last week, the New York Consumer Protection Board said its inspectors had recently visited 2,800 stores and found about 620 recalled toys still on shelves.  And just yesterday, officials from US Customs and Border Protection announced the seizure of thousands of cartons of poisonous Aqua Dots, shipped from China, that were bound for American stores.  Other surveys have found recalled toys and other products for sale on online auction sites and at second hand stores.

The failure of federal regulators to protect American children from dangerous toys has led many states to consider enacting their own laws.  For example, California’s Attorney General has sued 20 companies, including Mattel Inc. and Toys R Us, accusing them of selling toys that contain unlawful amounts of lead and failing to warn the public of the health dangers. California is also the first state to seek labeling of toys made with unsafe levels of lead. It’s part of the state’s right-to-know law aimed at embarrassing businesses into removing toxic chemicals from their products.

Now, New York has become the latest state to try to stem the tide of unsafe toys. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) has proposed a law would punish the owners of retail and wholesale distribution firms who sell recalled toys with a fine of up to $5,000 per infraction and as much as a year in prison.  The dangerous toy bill would apply penalties to dealers “who knowingly or intentionally sell to the public … any toy or play equipment that has been the subject of a manufacturer or government ordered recall” because of a dangerous defect. The bill also states that dealers have 30 days to pull the products after notice of the recall.

Jeffries’ proposal is similar to one presented last week by several other lawmakers in the New York State Senate.  That proposal allows the attorney general to seek a civil penalty of $1,000 to $10,000 for retailers who violate the new law, but it does not include jail time.

The New York legislature is expected to take up the toy recall laws sometime early next year.

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