WASHINGTON (AP) - Toy-maker Fisher-Price is recalling 83 types of toys - including the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters - because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead.
The recall being announced Thursday involves 967,000 plastic preschool toys made by a Chinese vendor and sold in the United States between May and August. It is the latest in a wave of recalls that has heightened global concern about the safety of Chinese-made products.
The recall is the first for Fisher-Price Inc. and parent company Mattel Inc. involving lead paint. It is the largest for Mattel since 1998 when Fisher-Price had to yank about 10 million Power Wheels from toy stores.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, David Allmark, general manager of Fisher-Price, said the problem was detected by an internal probe and reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The recall is particularly alarming since Mattel, known for its strict quality controls, is considered a role model in the toy industry for how it operates in China.
Fisher-Price and the commission issued statements saying parents should keep suspect toys away from children and contact the company.
The commission works with companies to issue recalls when it finds consumer goods that can be harmful. Under current regulations, children's products found to have more than .06 percent lead accessible to users are subject to a recall.
Allmark says the recall was "fast-tracked," which allowed the company to quarantine two-thirds of the recalled toys before they even made it to store shelves. In negotiating details of the recall, Fisher-Price and the government sought to withhold details from the public until Thursday to give stores time to get suspect toys off shelves and Fisher-Price time to get its recall hot line up and running. However, some news organizations prematurely posted an embargoed version of the story online.
Allmark said the recall was troubling because Fisher-Price has had a long-standing relationship with the Chinese vendor, which had applied decorative paint to the toys. Allmark said the company would use this recall as an opportunity to put even better systems in place to monitor vendors whose conduct does not meet Mattel's standards.
He added: "We are still concluding the investigation, how it happened. ... But there will be a dramatic investigation on how this happened. We will learn from this."
The recall follows another high-profile move from toy maker RC2 Corp., which in June voluntarily recalled 1.5 million wooden railroad toys and set parts from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line. The company said that the surface paint on certain toys and parts made in China between January 2005 and April 2006 contain lead, affecting 26 components and 23 retailers.
"Anytime a company brings a banned hazardous product into the U.S. marketplace, especially one intended for children, it is unacceptable," said Nancy Nord, acting chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Ensuring that Chinese-made toys are safe for U.S. consumers is one of my highest priorities and is the subject of vital talks currently in place between CPSC and the Chinese government."
Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industries Association, praised Mattel's quick response to the problem, and suggested Mattel will use this setback as a lesson for not only the company but for the entire industry. However, he expressed concern about how the recall and other toy recalls will play out in consumers' minds in advance of the holiday season.
"We are worried about the public feeling," said Keithley, adding he observed how toy companies are embracing strict controls during a recent toy safety seminar in China. "We have thought all along that (consumers) can be confident in the products," he said. "But if companies like Mattel have this, then you have to ask how did this happen?"
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced a bill last month that he contended would dramatically expand the product safety commission's ability to protect consumers. In a statement Wednesday night, Durbin also called for better safety standards for products imported from China.
"Sadly, this is the most recent in a series of disturbing recalls of children's toys. While the toys may be different, they have one thing in common - they were manufactured in China," he said. "With the current tools and resources the Consumer Product Safety Commission has, it cannot adequately protect American consumers."
Owners of a recalled toy can exchange it for a voucher for another product of the same value. To see pictures of the recalled toys, visit Mattel's Web site. For more information, call Mattel's recall hot line at 800-916-4498.
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