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Amid concerns of quality and safety of their products, China is hit by 1.6 million lead-based paint recalls from a variety of retailers, and a 18.2 million unit recall due to hazardous loose magnets by the toy giant Mattel

August proved a particularly devastating month for China's commercial image.

In August, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the independent U.S. government agency tasked with protecting consumers from injurious products, reported eight seperate large recalls of children's toys, which contained toxic levels of lead in their paint. 

The products were recalled by such companies as Mattel, Fischer Price and  Jo-Ann  Fabrics.

The Fischer Price recall was the largest, at 967,000 units -- the items recalled included toys from the popular Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer lines.

Additionally, another large recall from Toys 'R' Us of a line of art supply kits was reported, on Thursday, by the Environmental News Network.

Lead poisoning
has many harmful side effects including reduced cognitive function, nausea, abdominal pain, irritability, hyperactivity, (and conversely) lethargy, seizure, coma, gastrointestinal problems, anemia, kidney failure, and reproductive health problems.  Lead poisoning results partially from the lead atoms bonding to enzymes which produce heme, the oxygen carrying molecule of red blood cells.  Typical lead poisoning involves blood levels of 200 ppb, however children can exhibit cognitive and mental damage at much lower levels of contamination, a reason why these recalls are particularly concerning.

The massive August recalls raise the total number of lead paint recalls of Chinese products by the CPSC to over 5 million units, so far in 2007, with another 675,000 this week alone.  Many different kinds of products have been recalled this last month, and throughout 2007, including children's clothing with painted buttons, painted jewelry, and a wide variety of toys.

Lead paint contamination was only one of China's woes in August, unfortunately.  The toy giant Mattel announced on Tues. August 14th, that it was recalling 18.2 million magnetic toys, worldwide.  This recall included 9.5 million toys in the U.S. 

The toys contained loose small, powerful magnets which could pose dangers as a choking hazard.  So far no injuries have been report, however multiple incidences of detached magnets have been reported, including one reported by the CPSC which involved a child found with a magnet in his mouth.

While only 3 children have recently, according to CPSC statistics, been hurt by swallowing magnets, the injuries caused in these case have been very serious.  The CPSC states that:
If (the magnets) attract one another inside the digestive tract (the magnets) can form large enough groups of small magnets to be able to rip holes in the wall of a child's intestinal wall, or create a blockage in the intestine. Similar damage can occur in the respiratory system if the child somehow inhales these magnets.
More troubling is the revelation that the Chinese were aware of the situation, but continued to produce the defective toys.  An official with the China Toy Association, who declined to be identified, was quoted as saying:
We knew about the situation, because since March some toys had been recalled due to magnetic parts problems.
MSNBC reported that a public opinion poll in August found that two-thirds of U.S. citizens would support a boycott on Chinese produced goods, to protest China's failure to control the quality of its exports.

The Chinese government tried to defend itself by stating that the CPSC had only issued 29 recalls out of 300,000 export orders.

GMA News reports that the Chinese government, in desperation to convince people that its products are not of substandard quality, has resorted to broadcasting a weeklong series of television programming defending the quality of their exports last week, on their state run television.

The article described Li Changjiang, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in China announcing on the show, "I'm here to tell you: have faith in made-in-China," to a group of foreign and Chinese executives and journalists invited to the show.

Unfortunately for China, the programming will only air on Chinese TV, and Li's assurances seem rather hard to believe amid the deluge of serious defects reported in August.

GMA News also mentions news that in New Zealand formaldehyde concentrations up to 900 times above the safe level were found in Chinese-manufactured woolen and cotton clothes.

Still, as bad a month as August was, things could get even worse for China in coming months.  The China Times reports that there is new legislation on the table in Congress, sponsored by Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican and co-chair of the U.S.-China Working Group, proposing to raise the maximum fine for importers of faulty food or toy products to US$50 million from the current US$500,000.

If this law were in effect today, over the course of August, China would have have been fined in excess of $1.45 billion.

From lead paint to formaldehyde and magnets, August 2007 is a month that China will likely want desperately to forget, but it is likely to remain in the minds of many U.S. retailers, U.S. citizens, and businesses worldwide for a long, long time.




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