As one legal chapter closes on the vinyl miniblinds industry, another opens.
California's attorney general and officials from Alameda County on June 22 settled an ``enforcement action'' against more than two dozen companies that imported or sold vinyl miniblinds that contained lead stabilizers.
Meanwhile, the parents of a Florida child are suing Jencraft Corp. of Totowa, N.J., claiming their 1-year-old son's elevated lead levels come from vinyl miniblinds sold by the company.
In California, the firms will pay a total of $700,000 — $300,000 of which will go to state- and county-run lead poisoning prevention programs, according to Staci Turner, a spokeswoman with the California Attorney General's office.
The state and county sued in 1996, claiming the miniblinds the defendants imported and sold should have come with lead-content warning labels. California's Proposition 65 law requires warning labels on all products that pose a risk of cancer or birth defects.
As part of the settlement, the firms also will conduct a public-education advertising campaign in newspapers and magazines.
Retailers also agreed to give rebates of $3 per miniblind to consumers who bring in their suspect products and buy new, ``lead-free'' versions.
``Most importantly, the firms have agreed to no longer make miniblinds with lead in them,'' Turner said, although the industry already tackled that provision in a 1996 agreement with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council.
The California settlement does go a step beyond the CPSC deal, requiring miniblinds to be tested and to have lead content of less than 200 parts per million.
The suit filed recently in Florida's Lake County Circuit Court cited negligent design, pain and suffering, medical expenses, permanent injury and other damages, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. The baby's blood lead levels were almost seven times greater than the amount considered dangerous, the report said.
The lawyer for the family declined to comment about the case. Jencraft officials did not return phone calls for comment.
A spate of suits followed a June 25, 1996, report by Washington-based CPSC indicating stabilizers used in some miniblinds formed dust high in lead after prolonged exposure to heat and sunlight.
``Our testing was scientific, reproducible and accurate,'' CPSC spokesman Ken Giles said in a July 1 telephone interview. ``We found enough exposure after [ultraviolet-light] degradation to determine a risk.''
The miniblinds in question were produced in China, Taiwan, Mexico and Indonesia. U.S. firms have not used lead stabilizers in vinyl miniblinds for more than 20 years, according to a variety of sources.
``There is no lead in [new] vinyl miniblinds,'' said Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman with the Window Covering Safety Council of New York. ``To my knowledge there never has been a proven case of lead poisoning from vinyl miniblinds.''
But at least one peer-reviewed scientific study has linked vinyl miniblinds to lead in children.
An article in the October Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association, linked miniblinds as the sole source of exposure for nine North Carolina children with lead poisoning. A total of 92 children were studied.
The journal article, written by Edward H. Norman, also reported lead levels on newer miniblinds made without lead stabilizers were ``below the limits of detection.''
CPSC in 1996 reached an agreement with WCSC to replace imported miniblinds that use lead stabilizers with those using a ``nonleaded formula.''
Greenpeace has disputed the value of that resolution, arguing there still are no enforceable standards requiring vinyl to be reduced in miniblinds, just an agreement between regulators and the industry.
Greenpeace also was disappointed because the agreement did not include a recall of an estimated 30 million lead-containing miniblinds, Joe BiGangi, a Greenpeace scientist and toxics campaigner said July 2.
``There are an awful lot of [miniblinds] out there in homes that do contain lead,'' BiGangi said, noting that lead poisoning in children is ``irreversible and cumulative.''