Import Surveillance Division Established to Inspect Toys and Other Products for Potential Safety Hazards and Liabilities

29 million toys were recalled in 2007. This unfortunate and scary trend has continued in 2008.

Since the beginning of this year, at least 19 products manufactured overseas have been voluntarily recalled by manufacturers in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) due to high lead levels, choking and aspiration problems in infants and children, magnets potentially causing fatal intestinal perforations, and smoke and fire hazards. Although many of the recalled toys were manufactured in countries which have far less quality controls than in the United States.

U.S. companies that sell and distribute such imported goods could be held legally liable under various legal theories of product liability. In an attempt to combat this problem, the CPSC, in conjunction with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has established what it described as an Import Surveillance Division, which will be charged with inspecting toys and other imports for potential safety hazards. Product safety inspectors will be deployed full time at U.S. ports to launch new import strategies and provide a greater presence at U.S. ports.

The new import surveillance division will test selected products for unsafe levels of lead, loose parts that could pose a choking risk to children, faulty wiring on electric components, and other potential hazards. The unit will have the authority to hold shipments deemed hazardous.

The 2008 high lead level recalls include 185,000 RR Donnelley Classroom Reading and Math Aids, 2,900 children’s metal necklaces manufactured by Pecoware Co. Inc., Netshops Children’s Table and Chair Sets, 80,000 children’s sketchbooks by eeBoo Corp., 5,300 Children’s Memory Testing Cards sold as part of educational testing kit sold by Riverside Publishing, children’s toy gardening rakes by Downeast Concepts, 11,000 Mission City Press Girl’s Bracelet Sets called A Life of Faith Charm Bracelet Sets, toy racing cars by OKK Trading, toy wrestler figures by A.A. of America, Cranium Cadoo Board Games, coin banks by TJ Promotions, Discount School Supply recalls play mats, and toy wagons by Tricam Industries.

The recalls of choking or strangulation hazards include 24,000 cribs imported by Munire Furniture Inc., including the company’s Majestic Curved Top, Majestic Flat Top, Essex, Brighton/Sussex and Captiva cribs with various model numbers that have improper brackets that don’t allow their mattresses to be fully lowered which could allow children inside the crib to crawl over the railing and fall. Other choking or strangulation recalls include 20,000 Infantino Lamb Grabby RattlesTM, Wendy Bellissimo Hidden Hills Collection Bassettbaby Drop-Side Cribs, West Music Recalls Egg-Shaker Toy Instruments and Shims Bargain Recalls Pacifiers.

Other hazards necessitating recalls involve small magnets that can detach from a toy. Magnets found by young children can be swallowed or aspirated. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract each other and cause intestinal perforations or blockages, which can be fatal. Thus 250,000 FUN N SAFE Magnetic Dart Boards, imported by Family Dollar, were recalled. Similarly, about 125,000 magnetic construction sets known as Battat Magnabild Magnetic Building Systems were recalled because ingested magnets pose aspiration and intestinal hazards.

Yet another children’s toy posing a different kind of hazard is the disarmingly named Cinderella Battery-Powered Toy Car. 64,000 Cinderella 12-Volt Electric Ride-On Vehicles were recalled by Dumar International USA due to fire and burn hazards. The wires under the hood of the car and/or in the battery compartment under the seat can short circuit, posing a fire and burn hazard to children riding in the car. Dumar and CPSC are aware of 40 incidents of the toy car’s wires overheating. In several incidents, smoke was seen coming out from underneath the seat area where the battery is located. In one incident, flames shot from under the hood while a 4-year-old girl was riding the vehicle. No injuries have been reported. The item was sold at Wal-Mart stores nationwide from August 2005 through February 2006 for about $200.

Problems with Chinese imports have extended beyond children’s toys. For example, criminal charges have been filed against a company, Selective Imports Corp., that prosecutors say imported and distributed nearly 90,000 tubes of Chinese toothpaste containing a poisonous substance, and a wholesaler, Vernon Sales Inc., that supplied local stores with the tubes.

The poisonous substance is diethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze and as a solvent. Chinese manufacturers have used the chemical, known as DEG, as a cheaper alternative to glycerin, which thickens toothpaste. Exposure to DEG can cause kidney and liver damage over time.

A Chinese factory’s production of the active ingredient of Heparin has lead to Heparin’s recall. Heparin has been implicated in over 400 serious complications and over 20 deaths.

The problem with foreign produced products is not limited to children’s toys. As an example, about 25,000 “Louisville/Davidson” and “Michigan” Brand Fiberglass Extension Ladders, manufactured in Mexico, were recalled because the extension or “fly” section can fail to lock, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

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