Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sen. Sherrod Brown yesterday urged U.S. regulators to take quick action to ensure the safety of Halloween novelties imported from China after new tests showed unacceptably high levels of lead.

The Ohio Democrat’s action was the latest salvo in the months-old concern over the safety of Chinese-produced food, toys and other products. China makes almost 80 percent of the toys imported into the U.S.

It comes on the eve of a Halloween season during which consumers are expected to spend about 10 percent more than last year. The average person is expected to spend $64.82 on Halloween this year, compared with $59.06 last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Ashland University chemistry professor Jeffrey Weidenhamer, who conducted the research cited by Mr. Brown, said yesterday that he found high lead levels on three of the 22 items he tested, including masks, fake teeth, candy buckets and drinking cups. All of the items were clearly aimed at children, and all were labeled as Chinese imports, Mr. Weidenhamer said.

Contaminated items included two candy buckets and one drinking cup purchased at discount stores in Ashland, Ohio. Paint samples from one of the buckets had average lead levels of 0.28 percent by weight, compared with the federal safety standard of 0.06 percent, while the other bucket had a lead level of 2.1 percent and the drinking cup paint tested at 3.9 percent.

Mr. Brown wrote to acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Nancy A. Nord Tuesday, saying that “adequate safety measures have not been taken to assure that toys produced in China do not contain lead paint.”

He called the results of Mr. Weidenhamer’s research “extremely troubling” and said he wanted to know how the commission planned to address the problems uncovered.

Patty Davis, a CPSC spokeswoman, said yesterday that the commission is aware of Mr. Brown’s concerns and is working to address them.

“The CPSC welcomes information that may lead to identifying products with potential product hazards, but we must follow up and verify that information before action is taken,” she said.

“Seasonal products are addressed expeditiously because of the short time frame they are available. The CPSC is always working to identify any product that presents a product hazard and recall them as quickly as possible from the market,” she said.

Donald Mays, senior director for product safety planning and technical administration at the Consumers Union in Yonkers, N.Y., said it is “very disconcerting that we have to worry about so many products with high levels of lead winding up in the hands of our children.”

“This is not just a matter of a few substandard products slipping through the cracks, but rather millions of hazardous products falling through the gaping holes in our government’s safety net,” he said.

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