Prompted by the recall of 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys by an Oak Brook, Ill.-based toy maker and a growing number of recalls of Chinese-made toys, Sen. Amy Klobuchar called yesterday for a congressional hearing to investigate reports of unsafe imports.
Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction for product recalls, asked for Senate action "in analyzing the underlying concerns of safety for our children, China's role and what can be done to safeguard children from these potentially harmful products," according to a statement released by her staff.
A Chicago Tribune analysis of data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that since January 2004, the agency has issued 303 recalls for children's products, including 94 recalls of toys. A total of 218 of those recalls - 72 percent - were for products made in China.
The vast majority of the toys marketed in the U.S. are made in China, a fact reflected in the CPSC recall data. A total of 78 of the 94 toy recalls - 83 percent - during that period were for toys made in China.
In a telephone interview, Klobuchar called those statistics "unbelievable."
"The numbers are startling and really provide evidence that there has to be a full-blown hearing and a change in the way we regulate these products," she said.
The CPSC has been under fire recently, after a Tribune investigation revealed how the agency missed red flags and bungled the recall of the popular Magnetix toys. The tiny magnets come loose and are blamed for intestinal injuries to many children and the death of a Seattle boy in 2005.
Nancy Nord, head of the CPSC, said at a congressional hearing that the agency is struggling to regulate such toys but is hampered by a lack of funds and staff. Magnetix are made in China.
On June 13, the CPSC and RC2 Corp. announced the recall of the Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys after some of the toys were found to have been covered with paint containing lead in excess of U.S. standards designed to protect children from the toxic metal.
In calling for a hearing, Klobuchar said her concern comes from a number of areas, including that "I am a mom of a 12-year-old, who likes toys."
Klobuchar, the former chief prosecutor in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, also is acutely aware of the death of Jarnell Brown last year. The 4-year-old died in Minneapolis of extreme lead poisoning after he swallowed a lead-tainted heart-shaped charm that came as a promotional item with a pair of Reebok athletic shoes.
Klobuchar also is alarmed at the growing number of recalls of children's toys and other children's products because of lead contamination.
A Tribune analysis of all lead recalls in the past 30 years since lead paint was banned in the United States reveals 133 recalls and the vast majority involved Chinese-manufactured products.
Of the 65 recalls for items containing lead paint - such as the Thomas & Friends toys - more than half of the recalls and nearly half of the items recalled - a total of 4.6 million - have occurred since January 2004. More than 80 percent of those items came from China.
Maurice Possley writes for the Chicago Tribune.