Mattel in third Chinese toy recall amid lead scare

Mattel, battered by two high-profile recalls this summer, will announce tomorrow the recall of a third batch of Chinese-made toys because they may contain excessive amounts of lead paint.

Mattel, battered by two high-profile recalls this summer, will announce tomorrow the recall of a third batch of Chinese-made toys because they may contain excessive amounts of lead paint.

The latest recall by the world’s largest toy maker will be for a Fisher-Price toy and accessories to a Barbie doll playset and involves several hundred thousand units, according to two people briefed by Mattel executives who asked for anonymity because the company has not yet formally announced the action.

It could not be learned whether the toys were made in different Chinese factories.

Mattel chiefs did not immediately return phone calls tonight.

Mattel’s last recall, announced on August 14, covered about 19 million toys worldwide. They included Chinese-made toys that either had excessive amounts of lead paint or had small magnets that could easily be swallowed by children.

On August 1, Mattel’s Fisher-Price division said it was recalling 1.5 million pre-school toys featuring characters such as Dora the Explorer, Big Bird and Elmo because of lead paint. That action included 967,000 toys sold in the US between May and August.

Lead can cause brain damage when ingested by young children. Under current regulations, children’s products found to have more than .06% lead accessible to users are subject to a recall.

Robert Eckert, chairman and chief executive of El Segundo, California-based Mattel, warned at a press conference last month that there may be more recalls of tainted toys as the company stepped up its investigations into its Chinese factories and retests products.

Still, the latest action would be yet another blow to Mattel, which had cultivated an image of tightly controlling production in China. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also said today it was considering a possible investigation of whether Mattel notified authorities as quickly as it should have in connection with the August 14 recall.

With more than 80% of toys sold worldwide made in China, toy sellers are nervous that shoppers will shy away from their products in this year’s critical holiday season.

Late last month, Toys “R” Us announced it was recalling thousands of art sets made in China due to excessive levels of lead in some black watercolour paints.

In June, toy maker RC2 voluntarily recalled 1.5 million wooden railroad toys and set parts from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line. The company said that the surface paint on certain toys and parts made in China between January 2005 and April 2006 contain lead, affecting 26 components and 23 retailers.

In July, Hasbro recalled faulty Chinese-made Easy Bake ovens, marking the second time the toy had been recalled this year.

Last month, Mattel vowed that it would tighten its controls at its factories in China. About 65% of Mattel’s toys are made in China, where about 50% of Mattel’s production is produced in company-owned plants. But apparently, the controls were not strict enough, particularly when it came to overseeing Mattel’s subcontractors.

Until recently, Mattel had focused testing on materials that went into the toys and had factories do sample testing of its products.

Now, the company is increasing its vigilance at the beginning of production and during production. Factories are now being forced to test every batch of products before they are released to stores. Mattel has also stepping up unannounced random testing of its Chinese suppliers and is tightening enforcement of rules that suppliers use certified paint.

The August 14 worldwide recall covered more than 400,000 die-cast cars modelled after the cartoon movie character Sarge that contained excessive amounts of lead paint. Eckert told reporters the correct paint was sent to a sub-contractor, which apparently chose not to use it.

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