Outside editorial: The little engine that could kill

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Few products are more common in a toddler's home than Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Ask any 3-year-old about Percy, James, Henry or Clarabel and you'll likely get a discourse on each little train's personalities, antics and adventures.

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Chances are some of these young owners also know how their favorite characters taste.

That explains why parents understandably are alarmed at the news that some Thomas toys manufactured in China contain lead paint. A spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission stated that the Chinese manufacturer for an Oak Brook, Ill.,-based toymaker, RC2 Corp., appears to have substituted highly leaded pigments for some part of the lead-free paint specified by the toymaker.

The nationwide recall of 1.5 million Thomas & Friends red or yellow wooden railway toys may not be broad enough. Lead paint also has been found in some metal Thomas toys, the Tribune reported June 24. Metal toys have not yet been included in the recall.

In a statewide inspection, the Illinois attorney general found that retailers have been slow to remove the toys from their shelves or post recall notices. And RC2 Corp. has adopted a disturbing bunker mentality, refusing nearly all interview requests and issuing a brief statement stating it has "implemented a corrective action plan."

Ingested lead paint poses particular dangers to young children. Even small amounts can accumulate to disrupt the normal growth pattern of cells. Lead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities, lower IQ, brain damage or even death.

China has grown as an exporter by being fast, cheap and versatile. But China has another hard lesson to learn about business: A reputation that has taken years to build can be destroyed quickly. If consumers are afraid of your products, you won't sell many of them.

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