Mattel Reaches $12 Million Agreement over Tainted Toys

Attorneys general of 39 states reached a settlement agreement with Mattel Inc. and its subsidiary, Fisher-Price Inc., resolving a 15-month investigation into the events that lead to a voluntary recall of the companies’ toys for excessive lead paint in 2007.

The consent judgment, announced Dec. 15, requires Mattel to make a payment of $12 million by Jan. 30, 2009, to be divided among the participating states. As the leader of the multi-state group investigation and settlement, Massachusetts will receive $625,000 as a result of the settlement; $500,000 will be dedicated to combating and preventing childhood lead poisoning and $125,000 will cover the costs of the investigation.

“Lead is highly toxic, particularly to young children. Higher exposures to lead, such as the levels found in these toys, can cause grave health problems,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. “This agreement also includes important lead monitoring requirements that should prevent a similar public health scare from occurring in the future, in addition to funds that will be used for preventative efforts on the state level. Our office looks forward to working with the Department of Public Health and public health organizations to use settlement funds to protect children from the dangers of lead poisoning.”

From Aug. 2, 2007, through Oct. 25, 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled approximately 2 million Mattel and Fisher-Price toys, all manufactured by contractors in China, because the toys contained excessive lead in accessible surface coatings and substrates. A substrate is the base substance a toy is made of that is distinct from the surface coating that covers a toy. At the time of the recalls, the federal standard permitted for lead in accessible surface coatings was 600 parts per million (ppm). During the course of the states’ investigation, authorities found that lead levels in the recalled toys not only exceeded the federal standard, but in some instances, tested over 10,000 ppm and 50,000 ppm. The attorneys general investigated how Mattel permitted these lead-tainted toys to enter the stream of commerce and whether Mattel’s contracting and quality assurance processes were sufficient to guard against lead-tainted toys.

The agreement reached by the attorneys general and Mattel includes more stringent standards for accessible lead, in both surface coatings and substrates, effective for toys manufactured after November 30, 2008. Under the settlement,the new standards are 90 ppm for lead paint and surface coatings, and 300 ppm total lead for substrates. Since the Attorneys General first contacted Mattel in August 2007, Congress enacted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which requires more stringent standards for lead in surface coatings and substrates, effective in February 2009. Under the judgment filed on Dec. 15, Mattel must phase-in more stringent standards ahead of the timelines provided by the CPSIA.

Mattel also is required to notify the attorneys general if it confirms excessive lead in any of its products in violation of state or federal law, or the Consent Judgment, and to work with the attorneys general to remedy such violations. Under the Consent Judgment, should Mattel sell toys in the future that surpass the judgment’s lead standards, that conduct would constitute contempt of the judgment as well as a violation of the Consumer Protection Act. The toys containing lead have been recalled from shelves, and the Consent Judgment provides protections against future harm for toys now being manufactured.

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