Cuomo Reaches Settlements With Major Retailers To Remove Lead-contaminated Children's Jewelry From Stores Nationwide

NEW YORK (November 21, 2007) - New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today announced settlements with retailers Michaels Stores, Inc. and Big Lots requiring that they immediately discontinue sales nationwide of children's jewelry found to contain dangerous levels of lead. The settlements, which include smaller retailers across the region, Internet distributors and a national supplier to craft stores, include enforceable provisions such as product testing and vendor certifications that will ensure lead-contaminated products are kept off store shelves.

A national recall of lead-contaminated children's jewelry based on Cuomo's investigation is also being announced today by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

"Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our children," said Attorney General Cuomo. "My office has undertaken an ongoing and extensive investigation into lead levels in children's jewelry, and taken swift, enforceable action to remove contaminated products from stores. I commend Michaels Stores and Big Lots for taking immediate and proactive steps to address the problems revealed by our investigation and for agreeing to safeguards against lead contamination."

During the investigation, Cuomo's office performed basic lead detection tests on children's jewelry purchased from a variety of businesses located in the Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, Long Island and New York City areas. About half of the items tested contained excessive amounts of lead with some containing more than a thousand times the level identified by the CPSC as safe. Some of these items came from small discount or "dollar" stores, while others came from national retailers, such as Big Lots, a national chain of 1,300 discount stores nationwide, and Michaels Stores, the nation's largest retailer of arts and crafts materials with more than 950 retail outlets. With the assistance of the New York State Department of Health, more complex lead analyses were performed on a subset of these products, which confirmed the initial test results.

Over the last two years, the CPSC has recalled over 150 million items of children's jewelry because of their lead content. These recalls, however, are voluntary and unenforceable. Cuomo's investigation confirmed that despite such recalls, children's jewelry containing lead is still being sold across the state. The settlements announced today are binding and enforceable. Violations of the settlement agreements will result in automatic penalties.

Other retailers, suppliers and distributors signing settlement agreements include:

  • A Dollar in Henrietta, New York.
  • Buckwholesale.com, of Tucker, Georgia.
  • Colossal Jewelry and Accessories of Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
  • Dollar Days International of Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • Grand 99 Cent Store in Bronx, New York.
  • Ming 99 Cent City in Colonie, New York.
  • Pure Allure of Oceanside, California.
  • Quality 99 Cents, Inc., in Uniondale, New York.
  • The $ Limit of White Plains, New York.
  • Yankee One Dollar, based in Waterford, New York with stores in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts.

Lead is toxic, especially to young children. Exposure to even small amounts of lead through ingestion or hand to mouth contact can cause a variety of permanent developmental and behavioral problems. Ingesting lead can cause acute poisoning, seizures, respiratory failure and death. In one well-publicized case last year, a 4-year-old Minnesota boy died from acute lead poisoning after swallowing a heart-shaped charm from a bracelet that he received free with the purchase of athletic shoes.

The settlement agreement with Michaels and Big Lots puts into place a number of safeguards to ensure that lead-contaminated items are kept off their shelves nationwide. In addition to immediately stopping all sales of the lead-contaminated items and working with its supplier and the CPSC to recall them, Michaels has amended its vendor policy to require its suppliers to certify their compliance with federal and New York State laws prohibiting the sale of hazardous children's products, including those with excessive lead. Michaels has also agreed to expand its lead testing to a wide range of products using x-ray fluorescence technology combined with laboratory analysis, and to immediately discontinue sales nationwide of any additional items identified as unsafe. Similarly, the agreement with Big Lots also requires the chain to ensure its children's jewelry products do not contain excessive levels of lead in their stores nationwide.

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Community & Preventative Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine said, "Even in the lowest doses, lead can cause developmental problems in children, and can be associated with attention deficit disorder. The Attorney General deserves high praise not only for forcing major retailers to discontinue their sales of children's lead jewelry but also for requiring them to take steps to keep these dangerous products off their shelves."

Dr. David O. Carpenter, M.D. of the Institute for Health & the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany said, "As a medical professional, I know only too well the permanent and devastating effects lead has on children. Exposure to lead reduces IQ and causes a shortened attention span that is irreversible. We must protect children from lead's devastating effects. I applaud Attorney General Cuomo's office for protecting children from lead by getting these dangerous products off store shelves."

Dr. Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said, "Lead poisoning of children continues to be a serious public health concern. Lead can harm children's developing brains and nervous systems, and some of these harms will last a lifetime. We owe it to our children to remove as many sources of lead from their surroundings as possible. The fine work of the Office of the Attorney General will remove sources of lead exposure, and make a real difference in the health and safety of our children."

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, "Play time shouldn't be toxic time. CCE is very proud of NY's Attorney General for uncovering and aggressively stopping lead exposure to our children."

Dr. Maida Galvez, M.D., M.P.H., of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City said, "Childhood exposure to lead can be devastating. At very high levels, it can be lethal. At lower levels, it can permanently impair a child's growth, sight, hearing and ability to learn. This is why, from a public health perspective, the Attorney General's efforts to remove lead-contaminated children's jewelry from store shelves are so important."

Bobbi Chase Wilding, Organizing Director for Clean New York, said, "Clean New York and the more than 30 groups in the JustGreen Partnership commend Attorney General Cuomo for targeting this widespread exposure to toxic jewelry in stores ranging from major retailers like Michaels and Big Lots to 99 cent stores. It helps give children in all our communities a chance at a brighter future, so they aren't robbed of the ability to learn and be healthy. Much work remains to safeguard our children from toxics, and the JustGreen Partnership looks forward to tackling this larger problem with the Attorney General, Governor and Legislature."

State law prohibits the sale, import or manufacture of children's products which pose an unreasonable risk of injury. The Attorney General's Office forwarded the results of its investigation showing excessive levels of lead in children's jewelry items to the CPSC for recall action. Thus far, the CPSC has announced six product recall notices covering more than 35 products as a result of the Attorney General's investigation. The CPSC's recall is estimated to cover more than 500,000 individual items.

Parents who suspect that their children may be at risk due to lead exposure should consult a health care professional. Further tips on safe lead-free holiday shopping are available on the state Attorney General's website at www.ag.ny.gov

Parents are urged to check their children's jewelry and toys to determine whether any items may contain dangerous levels of lead. Both the federal CPSC and the State Department of Health maintain a list of items that have been recalled for excessive lead content, available on their websites.

Photographs of the jewelry items found to contain dangerous levels of lead can be found at www.ag.ny.gov

The settlements announced today and the ongoing investigation leading up to them are being handled by Assistant Attorney General Lisa Kwong and Dr. Judith Schreiber, Chief Scientist for the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General David Munro and Special Deputy Attorney General Katherine Kennedy. The state Department of Health's Dr. Laiquat Husain and Dr. Chris Judd assisted with the investigation.

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