Of the 234 items recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) this year, 154 were manufactured in China, 43 were manufactured in the United States and 37 were manufactured elsewhere in the world.
Recalled products run the gamut from children’s jewelry, car seats and toys to gas grills, furniture and all-terrain vehicles. Many products were recalled without injuries. But some did cause injuries, including a remote-controlled airplane that exploded as it left the user’s hand on numerous occasions and injured 33 persons.
The number of Chinese-made product recalls in the United States has doubled in the past five years, according to the nonprofit Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine. Chinese products accounted for 60 percent of the total recalls in the U.S. last year, which numbered 467 — a record.
Earlier this week, U.S. toy manufacturer Mattel Inc. announced a massive recall of 19 million toys worldwide — 9.5 million in the U.S. — that have been found to be potentially dangerous to children because of defects such as lead paint or loose magnets. It was Mattel’s second toy recall this month.
Safety fears likely extend beyond toy companies such as Mattel that have voluntarily recalled their products, said Stephanie Oppenheim, who publishes the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, a consumer guide to toy safety.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to assume lead paint is only an issue for Mattel or RC2,” Ms. Oppenheim said, referring to the makers of Barbie dolls and Thomas and Friends toys, respectively. “Both of them are leading companies on the issue. I think this is really the tip of the iceberg.”
“All companies, large and small, should be required to do what Mattel says it’s doing going forward, and that’s batch testing,” she said, referring to the practice of stopping in the middle of each production unit and checking for quality among units.
But, while large toy makers or retailers can afford expensive testing, “the real issue that no one’s been talking about is what happens to the smaller and mid-sized toy companies,” Ms. Oppenheim added.
Furthermore, food and drugs are the only imported goods that the government inspects for safety when they enter the United States. Other products, whether clothing, toys, paper products or electronics, are inspected only by the private companies that manufacture them.
“Most products that are traded are not inspected, at least not for [consumer] safety reasons,” said Bill Primosch, senior director of international business policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington trade group. “We expect that manufacturers and importers will adhere to the appropriate health safety and environmental standards — and most do.”
“Most of the products that come from China appear to be safe,” he said. “Many of the products imported are made in U.S.-operated plants in China that meet the high quality standards that they insist on their production in the U.S.”
Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, said the Mattel recalls this week should serve as a wake-up call to Congress to allocate more money to U.S. regulators.