New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on Nov. 29 announced a statewide recall of soft-vinyl lunch boxes, because he said they contain lead levels that exceed packaging regulations.
Spitzer said the lunch boxes, imported from China by wholesaler Fast Forward LLC, are being recalled at major retailers in the state, including Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us and JCPenney. A statement from Spitzer's office said Fast Forward agreed to pay a $7,000 fine and establish procedures to ensure that it does not sell products that violate hazardous materials laws.
Spitzer's office is not the first to raise concerns. In August, the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health sued several vinyl lunch box manufacturers and retailers under California's Proposition 65 legislation for allegedly using lead and not disclosing it, a violation of state law.
The group said Nov. 29 it has added two firms to its lawsuit, bringing the total to eight. CEH said it was in settlement talks with the firms, including manufacturers Igloo Products Corp. in Katy, Texas, and InGear Corp. in Buffalo Grove, Ill., and retailers Walgreens, Big Lots and the Ross chain.
CEH spokesman Charles Margulis said CEH testing indicated the lunch boxes with lead are manufactured overseas.
Margulis said health departments around the country are looking at the issue, but the federal government said it does not see a problem.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission said it has tested lunch boxes and has not found lead coming out at hazardous levels. A child would have to rub the lunch box and lick his or her hands 450 times a day for 15-30 days to experience problematic levels of lead, CPSC spokeswoman Patty Davis said.
Margulis said lead is dangerous at any level, and CEH tests have found lead on the surface of every lunch box that tested positive, meaning it is accessible to children. He said a more-activist CPSC under President Clinton in 1996 pushed the vinyl miniblind industry to remove lead, based on the potential of exposure to children.
But Davis said the situations are different because CPSC had evidence that lead dust migrates from miniblinds to areas like windowsills when the blinds are exposed to sunlight.