Toy inquiry reveals more recalls to come

House subcommittee posts letters revealing names of toys that could face recalls in coming weeks.

By Katy Byron, CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) -- There will be additional recalls of toys with lead-contaminated paint in "the coming weeks," a source with knowledge of the coming announcements told CNN Wednesday.

The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection has posted letters from retailers on its Web site that include toys the companies found to contain a hazardous amount of lead that have not yet been recalled and may be on store shelves.

Target (Charts, Fortune 500) disclosed to the committee that it had recalled 1,854 units of Sunny Patch Safari Children's Chair toys on Aug. 30 after the company found the paint on the toys contained more than 30 times the amount of lead allowed by U.S. law. However, neither the Consumer Product Safety Commission nor Target's Web sites contain any information about the hazards of this product.

The House subcommittee requested similar information from 19 toy companies that had previously distributed toys found to contain illegal levels of lead - including Mattel (Charts, Fortune 500), Target, Dollar General and Tween Brands (Charts) - ahead of a two-day hearing on protecting children and toy safety that began Wednesday with the testimony of CPSC acting Chairman Nancy Nord, CPSC Commissioner Thomas Moore and Mattel CEO Bob Eckert.

Mattel disclosed to congressional investigators that some of the 1.5 million toys recalled for lead paint hazards contained nearly 200 times the legal amount of lead, according to documents obtained by CNN Wednesday.

The company said that the paint on the recalled toys typically contained 16 times the U.S. safety standards set by the CPSC in 1978, but that some toys were found to have 186 times the legal amount.

In a letter to Congress, Ron Elliott, the CEO of Excelligence Learning, the parent company of retailer Discount School Supply, said his company had identified three products it had yet to recall - shaving paint brushes, set of 6; rolling storage racks; and giant measuring charts - after testing found lead levels exceeding "lawful safety standards."

The company has ceased sale of all three items and is working with the CPSC to announce a recall, Elliott wrote. The number of units affected was not disclosed in the letter.

Tween Brands, another company contacted by investigators, said it had "recently learned that a decorative accessory attached to the outer packaging of some products may contain elevated amounts of lead," and it is working with the CPSC to investigate whether a recall is necessary for the products. Tween Brands also did not disclose how many products may have the tainted packaging.

During the first day of hearings on toy safety on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, congressmen blasted domestic toy companies and the CPSC about how lead-tainted products found their way into the marketplace.

Much of the questioning of the CPSC leaders pertained to how the agency can do its job better.

Commissioner Moore told the subcommittee that he feels he needs an additional 500 employees to fulfill all the tasks asked of the agency. The CPSC currently has about 400 employees. In 1981, the agency employed more than 1,000 people.

In response to questions of accountability for product safety and what kind of consequences a retailer could expect for violating federal standards, Nord replied "The consequence to them is what has been happening in the marketplace. People don't buy their products, people are very concerned about that and that frankly at the end of the day, economics counts for everything."

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, called the CPSC "a watch dog with a muted bark and no bite."

Mattel was the only company represented at the hearing.

"If a company like Dollar General can sell their products to my constituents, and make money off my constituents, one would think at a minimum they would appear before this subcommittee," the panel's chairman, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said in his opening statement.

Dollar General claims the request to participate in the hearing came on too short notice but its senior director of corporate communications, Tawn Earnest, told CNN it plans to cooperate with the subcommittee's investigation.

On the subject of the recent spate of recalls, Mattel's CEO said in his opening statement, "Our standards were ignored and our rules were broken."

"My job is to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again," Eckert added.

Questioned by a subcommittee consisting of many parents and grandparents, Eckert exclaimed forcefully "My number one goal is to make sure that this holiday season's toys are the safest ever."

He said Mattel sells 800 million toys per year.

-- CNN's Christine Romans contributed to this report Top of page