Toys With Lead Paint

Prime News with Erica Hill

11/20/2007  3:17 pm

ERICA HILL: There are names that parents know and trust especially around the holidays – names like Toys-R-Us, Mattel, Wal-Mart. Now those companies, along with dozens of manufacturers and retailers, were named in a lawsuit filed by California’s attorney general, Jerry Brown. That suit claims the companies knowingly exposed children to dangerous amounts of lead and failed to provide proper warnings after several major toy recalls this year involving lead-based paint on toys made in China.
So is this lawsuit going to fly? Would anything change? Former U.S. attorney Kendall Coffey joining us now — Kendall, this one hits close to home for me. I’m trying to buy presents for my son’s first birthday on Sunday and everything is made in China. But is this lawsuit going to stop dangerous toys?

KENDALL COFFEY: I think this lawsuit is definitely going to have a huge impact. What’s been happening amazingly Erica is 30 years ago we banned lead-based paints in homes and yet it’s being used in toys. Why, because so much of toy manufacturing is done overseas. But what this lawsuit is going to demonstrate is you can certainly globalize for profitability but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to minimize accountability.

ERICA HILL: Well, let’s talk about accountability. You bring up a really great point – the fact that lead paint was outlawed here decades ago. How is it still okay though to import it on products?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, in theory it’s not if it reaches certain levels but a lot of products have been coming in and apparently haven’t been tested adequately. Obviously there has been 72 different products recalled, but in the meantime a lot of people are wondering if they have to go to the North Pole this holiday season in order to find toys that are safe for their children.

ERICA HILL: That’s where the really good ones come from right? The tainted toys though, the fact that they’re manufactured overseas that we talked about, when they come into the country, is all of the onus on the toy companies or does the government bear some responsibility protecting here too?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, I think the government in a sense doesn’t have a legal liability but they can certainly do more. The manufacturers and the retailers do have the responsibility and I think that when we see a state attorney general’s lawsuit like this, where they can represent all of the victims of the community, all the victims of the state, can seek fines, it is a giant message to the toy industry. We all remember that the tobacco industry is paying over $200 billion in lawsuits for all the damages that resulted in settlements resulting from state attorneys generals. This may not be the only time the state attorney general steps forward so toy manufacturers had better get their act together in a hurry.

ERICA HILL: Especially this time of year. You mentioned the fines. The California AG wants to fine companies $2500 per toy. That is million upon million of dollars here at stake. Is any of that money though really going to be seen? 

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, I don’t think so but it is very daunting to a toy manufacturer. And the attorney general is the equivalent of a plaintiff’s super-hero they have special powers that allow them to sue for the damages of the whole state, seek fines and again they can basically leap tall building, down large companies in a single bound. What the companies will do in a hurry is come to terms with a settlement. Don’t be surprised if very, very quickly this 20 something list of who’s who in toy manufacturers and retailers – I think they are going to be barking into the office to try to make deals and get this problem behind them.

ERICA HILL: Yes, anything to make them look a little bit better. Kendall Coffey, thank you for being with us.