WASHINGTON (AP) — Companies behind recent recalls of children's toys and jewelry have told Congress that their Chinese suppliers assured them the products were virtually lead-free, though in one case a simple store-bought test revealed dangerous levels of the toxic metal.
Congress is investigating the recent spate of recalls, most of them involving Chinese-made products that contained excessive amounts of lead, including some toys sold by Mattel decorated with paint that exceeded U.S. lead standards by a factor of nearly 200. A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to open two days of hearings Wednesday on this year's recalls of millions of toys and other children's products.
The subcommittee is expected to examine in part the business models that allowed the companies to import the lead-laden products.
Many of the companies behind the recalls of gumball machine trinkets, toy soldiers and costume jewelry said their suppliers signed agreements to comply with U.S. lead standards, according to some of 19 company responses to congressional inquiries released Tuesday. Many suppliers also provided copies of lab results that showed the items contained only minuscule levels of lead allowed by law.
However, those claims didn't stand up to later scrutiny by the companies themselves and others that revealed lead levels that pushed 100 percent by weight in the case of some imported jewelry.
One company, Oriental Trading Co. Inc., told Congress its suppliers said its merchandise complied with all applicable U.S. laws, rules and regulations — including the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, which bans lead in jewelry intended for use by children.
Consumer Product Safety Commission testing of jewelry later recalled by the company found lead levels as high as 96 percent by weight. Oriental Trading said it no longer does business with the manufacturer.
Among those expected to testify are CPSC acting chairwoman Nancy Nord and Mattel Inc. chief executive Robert Eckert. Mattel has recalled about 1.5 million toys because of excessive lead. Company testing found paint on its recalled toys typically was about 1 percent lead — nearly 17 times the 0.06 percent allowed by law. Other paint samples had lead levels as high as 11 percent, or 183 times what is permitted, Mattel said.
Several other companies beyond Mattel also discovered high lead levels through their own testing programs. In other cases, it was the CPSC, Health Canada or consumer groups that discovered the lead and then alerted the companies.
For Kevin Dumphy of Spandrel Sales and Marketing Inc., it was a colleague in the vending machine industry who suggested he test the 25-cent jewelry his company sells. Dumphy told Congress in an Aug. 29 letter that his Tempe, Ariz., company bought a home lead-test kit at a hardware store to do so.
''We did and it failed,'' Dumphy wrote. The company later recalled about 123,000 pieces of jewelry.