WASHINGTON - A California lawsuit against U.S. marketers of foreign-made vinyl miniblinds is based not on scientific evidence, but instead on blanket allegations reported in the press, the executive director of the U.S. trade group representing window coverings charged July 24. California Attorney General Dan Lungren and Alameda County officials claim in a July 16 lawsuit that Jencraft Corp. of Totowa, N.J., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, Ark., and 11 other importers or retailers of foreign-made vinyl miniblinds did not mark their products with warnings that the blinds contain lead, as required under a 1986 Califor-nia law.
The Washington-based Con-sumer Product Safety Commis-sion alleged June 25 that lead, used as a stabilizer in miniblinds made in Indonesia, Mexico, China and Taiwan, can appear in dust as a powder on the inch-wide mini-blinds after lengthy exposure to heat and sunlight.
The miniblinds have held up to 95 percent of the U.S. miniblind market, with the remainder satisfied by U.S.-made aluminum miniblinds.
``Given the proven health dangers of lead exposure in even small amounts, we feel strongly that this lawsuit is necessary to constructively engage the companies in an industrywide effort to eliminate lead from the miniblind market,'' Lungren said.
But Peter Rush, executive director of the Window Covering Safety Council in New York, said CPSC has issued no scientific paper outlining the specific danger or indicating which foreign-made miniblinds show degradation.
``In some testing, blinds do show deterioration, which varies from product to product. The blanket indictment [of vinyl miniblinds] is wrong to begin with. If they [the CPSC] find a particular problem, they should have dealt with that problem. Instead, they've tried the case by press release,'' Rush said.
Rush also noted offshore manufacturers of the vinyl miniblinds will make their products without the lead stabilizer, which has been included in the vinyl products to prevent color fading and ensure strength. Those foreign-made blinds will cost 10-15 percent more than the former product. No U.S. manufacturers will make vinyl miniblinds, he said.
Lead in miniblinds cannot be ingested through skin contact, although household dust on the miniblinds, which may contain lead, can be ingested by mouth. CPSC officials said children would suffer the effects of lead poisoning if they touch the vinyl blinds, then put their hands in their mouths.
The question of lead ingestion on blinds originated with state health officials in North Carolina and Arizona after testing of dust based on an acceptable standard for window sills.
The state lawsuit is the third North American court action against miniblind retailers and the second in California since the June 25 CPSC charge.
A class-action lawsuit was filed July 10 in California Superior Court in Sacramento against Wal-Mart and Jencraft.
On July 5, lawyers in Toronto filed a $10.7 billion class-action suit against retailer Zellers Inc. and Window & Bed Covers Inc. of Toronto. The suit seeks $10,000 each for some 8 million owners of the miniblinds, besides unspecified punitive damages.