- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Now that toy companies have issued recalls for millions of Chinese-made toys tainted with lead or are otherwise hazardous to children, they are scrambling to figure out what to do with them.

Mattel Inc., which on Tuesday recalled about 19 million toys worldwide, said it was working on a “responsible approach” but could not provide details.

Amid the lack of clarity, many parents are confused about how to dispose of the toys. That may mean many of them will end up in the trash and eventually in landfills, where they could leach toxins into groundwater.

All parents know at this point is that they must get them out of their children’s toy chests.

In Nashville, Tenn., Courtney Wilson discovered she had some recalled Polly Pocket dolls with magnets from Mattel, and has decided to throw them out. Meanwhile, another parent, Jennifer Mulligan of Franklin, Tenn., is making a different choice: She plans to take the recalled dolls back to the store.

Mrs. Mulligan said her 6-year-old daughter “probably has about every Polly Pockets ever made.”

She added: “If we did have an affected toy, I’d see it as lesson for her. … If there was something wrong with the toy, it’s up to the store to replace it with another toy.”

The Mattel recall is the latest in a number of recalls involving more than 10 million toys since June in the U.S. alone.

The most alarming has been the recall of toys coated with lead-based paint. Children who ingest the paint could suffer brain damage, and improper disposal of lead-based paint could damage the environment.

Mattel’s recalls cover several hundred thousand “Sarge” vehicles and almost a million toys from its Fisher-Price line, including the “Sesame Street” and “Nickelodeon” characters.

Its recalls follow the recall of 1.5 million items from RC2 Corp.’s Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway toy line, announced in June.

Many retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are offering the option of returning the recalled toys to stores where they will be sent back to the makers, but they prefer that shoppers send them back to manufacturers in packaging that the maker provides in exchange for a refund.

“Certainly, there is a significant expense to manage a recall,” said Eric Johnson, professor of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “This is a big headache.”

Lead-painted toys fall under the category of products that should be destroyed or properly disposed of, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

But plenty of other toys — like the millions of ones including Batman and Polly Pockets recalled this week by Mattel because of hazardous magnets — don’t have to be destroyed.

Still, they could present future legal risks if they pop up in a Salvation Army store or other resale site.

The magnetic toys were recalled because their small, powerful magnets could harm children if swallowed.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman at the CPSC, said a recalled product like a lead-laced toy cannot be exported for resale.

Disposal sometimes is determined as part of a company’s recall negotiations with the agency, but ultimately must be in accordance with state and federal environmental laws, he said.

Mr. Wolfson said he could not discuss whether the agency entered into specific arrangements with Mattel on how it should handle its inventory of recalled products.

For toys that don’t pose an environmental hazard, such as the recalled magnetic toys, a manufacturer has more leeway. A company may even seek to ship the items for sale abroad.

“Some companies do request to re-export their products to another country,” Mr. Wolfson said.

In such cases, the manufacturers are required to tell the CPSC, which alerts the country where the product is slated to go and gives them the opportunity to deny entry.

Some consumer watchdogs think many parents will find returning a toy and waiting for a voucher a cumbersome process and opt instead to throw out the dangerous toys.

Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Knowledge International, a San Francisco nonprofit group that tracks environmental health issues, worries that “ultimately, this problem is also creating a landfill problem because most of these products are not likely to be captured by manufacturers,” Mr. Gottesfeld said.

Manufacturers appear to be challenged by how they’re going to handle such a massive recall.

Wayne Charness, a spokesman at Hasbro, which recalled faulty Easy Bake ovens this year from China, made it clear that he wants customers to bring the defective products back so Hasbro can crush them.

He declined to comment on how many have been returned.

Nancy Davies, a spokeswoman for RC2, said that since Aug.8, RC2 has recovered 56 percent of the toys included in its June 13 recall. The company recalled 1.5 million toys in North America.

“We are still working with the CPSC to determine the best method of disposal for the recalled products,” she said. “Once that is determined, the company will dispose of the potentially unsafe toys.”

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