Technology like X-ray guns have enabled guerrilla toy testers to take to stores looking for toys containing unsafe levels of lead and other chemicals, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a consumer advocacy group in Oakland, CA, for instance, zapped frog-charm jewelry sold at Wal-Mart and found that it contained levels of lead higher than allowed by California state law.
The group sent notice of the violations to the California attorney general’s office, which then told Wal-Mart to remove the item from its stores, according to Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for the attorney gene
Being “exposed” by an advocacy group like CEH is a daunting experience. In addition to directly informing regulatory officials (i.e., the Consumer Product Safety Commission), the groups typically send out press releases disclosing the findings, sometimes without first notifying the affected retailers or manufacturers.
Such releases, when reported by the media and read by consumers, can cause spark fear among parents and affect their spending – a particularly frightening prospect during the crucial holiday shopping season, said the Toy Industry Association.
Tests that utilize the X-ray-gun testing method are particularly prone to error because without proper training, the results can be compromised from say, failure to calibrate the device before use, manufacturers said.
Legitimate reports – those that lead to official product recalls – require that levels of lead or other toxic substances detected by X-ray guns be confirmed by a testing lab.
Last year, scares about unsafe toys rattled holiday shoppers, prompting Congress to pass a handful of consumer-product-safety regulations in August. New rules that set first-time limits on lead and phthalates allowed in children’s products will take effect Feb. 10.
However, some toymakers have agreed to immediately implement the new standards which hold permissible levels to 90 parts per million from the current 600 parts per million.
Mattel was involved in a 15-month investigation of it’s Chinese-made Sesame Street dolls, Dora the Explorer accessories, and dozens of other products shipped to the US last year. A Boston state court ruled on Monday that though the toys never reached store shelves, the toymaker must pay $12 million to 39 states in damages.