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Toxic lead levels prompt huge recall of toy jewelry.

Byline: From Register-Guard and news service reports

Four import companies have voluntarily recalled 150 million pieces of toy jewelry sold in vending machines because many contain dangerous amounts of lead, federal regulators said Thursday.

The recall, announced Thursday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is one of the largest in U.S. history.

Only about half of the 150 million pieces of toy jewelry actually contain lead, but because it's difficult to distinguish the lead jewelry from the nonlead jewelry, the industry decided to recall all of it, the commission said.

The agency advised parents to search their homes for the suspect jewelry and to throw it out if they find it.

The toys cost 25 cents to 75 cents each and have been sold in 700,000 vending machines since January 2002.

Thursday's recall follows two earlier recalls of 2.4 million pieces of similar jewelry in the past 10 months that failed to curtail the problem.

One of the earlier recalls was prompted by a report that a 4-year-old boy in Deschutes County suffered lead poisoning last summer after swallowing a pendant he bought for a quarter in a gumball machine. The boy had 12 times the acceptable level of lead in his body, his parents said.

Doctors retrieved the medallion - and a U.S. quarter - from the boy's stomach and found its contents to be 39 percent lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By way of comparison, the government prohibits sale of paint that contains more than 0.06 percent lead.

No reports of injury or illness have been received for the recalled products announced Thursday, the commission said.

Carol Pilch, a lawyer representing the companies, said they already had removed all but about 2 million pieces of jewelry from the market and those would be completely cleared within the next several weeks.

Pilch said about 14 million pieces had either been in the machines or on their way when the companies began to remove them and the rest were already sold.

She also said that on average, consumers hold the items for about two weeks.

A spot check Thursday by The Register-Guard of a half-dozen grocery and department stores in Eugene found only one store - the Coburg Road Albertsons - that had a vending machine selling jewelry matching the description in the recall.

Young children sometimes mouth or swallow such items, and lead can leach from the jewelry into the child's body.

Studies consistently have found that even small amounts of lead ingested by children can cause permanent neurological damage or behavior or learning problems.

In recent decades, the incidence of lead poisoning has been reduced by regulations removing it from products such as paint and gasoline. But commission officials said Wednesday that its prevalence in a ubiquitous product such as jewelry prompted the agency to act swiftly.

The toy jewelry is made in India and imported by four companies - A&A Global Industries of Cockeysville, Md.; Brand Imports of Scottsdale, Ariz.; the Cardinal Distribution Co. of Baltimore; and L.M. Becker of Kimberly, Wis. The recalled jewelry represents about 90 percent of the toy jewelry found in vending machines.

Commission Chairman Hal Stratton said the commission found that the importers relied on erroneous laboratory testing that concluded that the toy jewelry was safe.

He said that the companies swiftly agreed to the recall after being presented with the agency's own laboratory testing. He said that the industry's own laboratory test had concluded that jewelry that was plated would not be dangerous. ``But it failed to note that it still leaches,'' he said, referring to lead.

The four firms have told the commission that they have stopped importing toy jewelry containing lead and will work on eliminating hazardous levels of lead in future imports of toy jewelry.

Eugene Lipman of A&A Global Industries said safety was the companies' top concern. He said they volunteered to do the widespread recall so they could eliminate any ``confusion'' regarding which toys were safe and which had the potential for lead poisoning.

Lipman said they were working with the agency, ``setting testing methods, and no product is being imported.''

He said the companies won't import any more jewelry until the CPSC sets some safety measures.

The companies also would not say how much the recall will cost the industry.

The market value of the 14 million pieces of jewelry removed from the machines and distribution channels is $3.5 million to $10.5 million.

LEAD-TAINTED JEWELRY

The toy jewelry recall involves various styles of rings, necklaces and bracelets, all made in India and sold in vending machines for 25 cents to 75 cents each.

The rings are gold- or silver-colored with different designs and paint finishes and center stones in a variety of shapes.

The necklaces have black cords, black ropes or gold- or silver-colored chains. They have pendants, crosses or various geometrical designs and may include fake gemstones.

The bracelets include charm bracelets, bracelets with medallion links and bracelets with fake stones.

To see pictures of the recalled jewelry, go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site at www.cpsc.gov; click on "recalls and product safety news," then click on "July 2004."

Consumers also can visit the companies' Web site at www.toyjewelryrecall.com

Consumers also may call a hot line established by the companies that imported the jewelry, at (800) 441-4234, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission Consumer hot line at (800) 638-2772.

CAPTION(S):

Toy jewelry from a vending machine in Springfield, Ohio, tested positive for lead in varying amounts, Clark County, Ohio, health officials say.
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Title Annotation:Health; Four importers voluntarily agree to take back 150 million pieces sold in vending machines locally and across the nation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 9, 2004
Words:935
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