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Toy recall mess leaves parents frustrated

The recent recalls of toys made in China have frightened parents and frustrated large numbers of American consumers. Here are some e-mails from our readers. Also, some answers to your pressing questions. By ConsumerMan Herb Weisbaum.

The recent recalls of toys made in China have frightened parents and frustrated large numbers of American consumers. That’s clear from the large volume of e-mail I received in response to my August 9th column, “Trouble in Toyland: Putting children at risk.”

Here are a few examples of how emotional this issue has become:

“As a grandmother of an 8 month-old boy, can't we please, please, please make American-made and stop importing from China? I am beginning to think that China is trying to kill us with lead-tainted toys for our children, bad tires for our cars, and antifreeze in our toothpaste.”
— Nadine

“When Mattel made toys in America there were not all the safety issues with lead paint. If a toy giant cannot rely on China to build safe toys for our children, then we have to build toys in USA, where they are safe ...”
— Robert Ritter

“All these companies ever think of is money. The more they make, the more they want, no matter who gets hurt. It has to stop here and now. I don’t want our children paying the price.”
— Silvia

“Dear Cheap Manufacturer: This is what you get for moving manufacturing overseas to save money. If and when I find a product made in America, I buy it. What happened to pride in products? I’m fed up!”
K. Young

“Why isn't anything said about corporate greed and all of these American companies that have moved their factories from the United States for cheap labor, child labor?  What is wrong with MADE IN THE USA?” 
Cherie Erickson

“All of these recalls of toys are costing the companies millions. Just think if they had paid U.S. citizens to make them.”
— Cheryl LeVan

"When are we going to wake up??? Our country, unfortunately, is killing a lot of local manufacturing and putting industries out of business because of cheap, unsafe, Chinese products.”
Terry Bahri

A message from China
I also heard from Jim Stumbo, the director of manufacturing for a U.S. company that imports hardwood flooring. “All the factories here cheat,” he wrote from China. “The rule of business in China, TRUST NO ONE!

“While at the factory, I have heard management telling employees that a customer is coming for an inspection, so the employee is to get the ‘special’ product they have produced for the customer to check.

“We have worked with factories for years and everything looked good. Then they will start substituting things that they are not supposed to use because they can save a little money. If you are lucky enough to catch them, their answer is to offer you a discount.

“The only way that a U.S. importer could be sure about their products is if they had a full quality assurance team in place, staffed with U.S. workers.”

Many of you sent me e-mail demanding answers. I can't answer everybody, but here are answers to some of your questions:

Q: Is this going to be a record year for toy recalls?
It looks like it. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission tells me there have been about 86-million toys recalled so far this year. There were 123-million recalled in 2006.

If there’s any good news in this, the CPSC says more companies are reporting safety problems, as required by law, which means items can be taken off the shelf more quickly.

Q: Are any toys made in China safe?
Yes. We should all be concerned about the current situation — huge numbers of toys have been recalled — but they’re just a tiny fraction of what’s on the market.

“There is absolutely no need to panic,” says Don Mays, Senior Director of Product Safety at Consumers Union “The majority of the toys out there do not have safety problems.”

Q: What about those do-it-yourself lead test kits?
You can buy these test kits at your local hardware or home improvement store for under $10. The kits use a solution that reacts to lead by changing color. Surprisingly, the Consumer Product Safety Commission does not recommend them. Spokesman Scott Wolfson says the commission is “really concerned about false positives and false negatives with some kits.”

The editors of Consumer Reports agree that these at-home lead test kits can give false readings. However, they say, the kits do have some value. “If you use the test kits and it does show signs of high lead it warrants further testing, says Don Mays.

Q: Should I have my child tested for lead?
The exposure to lead from mouthing toys is relatively small when compared to swallowing a lead paint chip or a piece of lead jewelry.

Even so, if you are concerned, especially if your child has been playing with the recalled toys and putting them in their mouth, talk to your doctor about having your child tested for lead exposure. Normally, this can be done with a few drops of blood taken with a finger prick.

Q: Will these recalls cause more products to be made in America?
A lot of people say they won’t buy toys imported from China. But with 80 percent of the toys made there, that won’t be easy.

Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of Toy Wishes magazine and the father of three, points to sales of Thomas & Friends wooden toys. They dropped for four weeks following the June recall, but they’re back to normal now.

Silver tells me he doesn’t expect manufacturers to pull out of China because it costs so much less to make things there. A toy that costs $20 to make in China would cost $60 to make in the U.S. “I don’t think the consumer would pay for it,” Silver says.

Everyone I spoke to agrees more testing will be done on toys made in China to insure safety standards are met and to regain consumer confidence.

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