March 23, 2006

A four-year-old boy from Minneapolis swallowed a heart-shaped charm from a Reebok bracelet and promptly died. Reebok is in a public relations panic, rightly recalling the 300,000 charm bracelets in circulation and talking as though the made-in-China lead-tainted bracelets were a terrible fluke.

They are no fluke. Costume jewelry containing dangerous levels of lead is sold to children and teenagers all the time in this country.

Reebok, a unit of Germany’s Adidas-Salomon AG, was investigating how the bracelets reached the market despite the lead risk…

Easily, that’s how! This statement insinuates that there’s an effective regulatory framework that prevents such occurrences, which is what most Americans assume, since lead exposure can lead to death, brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and impaired growth. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s policy on lead in jewelry is to recommend that manufacturers test their wares. Wow. What hard-asses. They “may recommend rulemaking to establish specific limits for lead content in jewelry” in the future. Feel safe yet?

In a separate action Thursday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said about 580,000 necklace and ring sets, imported by Dollar Tree Distribution Inc., are being recalled for a lead poisoning danger.

For the past three years, this jewelry has been sold at Dollar Tree, Dollar Bills, Dollar Express, Greenbacks, Only $1, and Super Dollar Tree stores. You can bet the recall will be mighty effective, as the Dollar team goes fishing around millions of couch cushions and toy chests across the country, searching for teeny, flimflam kiddie baubles and mood rings.

People like to slag on California for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggies is the amount of regulation in the state, which many business interests find “stifling.” Case in point: Proposition 65, California’s right-to-know law, which requires warning labels on products that expose consumers to substances known by the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm. This is one powerful, pro-family, pro-consumer law.

In June of 2004, State Attorney Bill Lockyer brought a lawsuit against a slew of costume jewelry retailers and distributors for failing to warn consumers about the risk of lead exposure, as dictated by Prop 65. Just this past January, a group of 38 distributors agreed to settle with the state for $1.875 million, including $100K in civil penalties, $250K for a jewelry testing fund, and $325K to educate consumers about the health risks from lead exposure. Go big Cal!

The companies that entered the settlement include biggies Federated Department Stores, J.C. Penney, KMart, Macy’s West, Mervyn’s, Nordstrom, Ross, Sears, Target and Toys R Us. If these businesses are forced to make safe the costume jewelry they sell to kids and teens in the California market, chances are good that the whole nation will benefit. Note Wal-mart’s absence from this list.