Just before Christmas 2007, an asbestos victims’ organization announced that testing it had commissioned had found potentially lethal asbestos fibers in the fingerprint powder of CBS broadcasting’s best-selling “CSI Crime Lab” toys.
Only now, 20 months later, after prodding from a judge presiding over a nationwide class action suit on the contaminated products, has CBS agreed to a settlement.
The agreement, which must be approved by the court, not only offers a refund but, more importantly, will effectively implement a nationwide recall of the toy science kits, based on the popular television drama series CSI, Arthur Bryant, executive director of Public Justice, told me today.
The suit was brought by Public Justice, a national public-interest law firm, and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, the independent volunteer organization, dedicated to raising public awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure. It has spent nearly $250,000 in testing the toys and other popular consumer products for asbestos.
The amount of asbestos that the lab tests uncovered stunned not only the analysts but also the public health advisors of the asbestos group that ordered repeated tests just to be sure.
“This was far too serious to not be absolutely sure of the accuracy of what we discovered,” said Linda Reinstein, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “We kept testing and still got the alarming results. We were aghast to find asbestos in a children’s toy.”
Her outrage was understandable. For asbestos fibers to sicken or kill, they must first be inhaled. The highly publicized, made-in-China toy containing white fingerprint powder loaded with asbestos included instructions that told children to get close and dust or blow the extremely fine powder away.
“The asbestos is almost certain to be inhaled and widely disseminated,” Public Justice said in the suit.
Reinstein, the chief analyst, and several leading national asbestos authorities announced their finding in a Washington news conference in December 2007. Immediately, copies of the lab results were delivered by courier to the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.
(Here’s a link to the Seattle PI’s story on that announcement which talks about other popular consumer products with asbestos.)
The silence from the government watchdogs was deafening.
It was only after Public Justice joined with Reinstein’s group that CBS and Planet Toys, it’s licensee who made the lab kits, agreed to pull them off the market.
But CBS said it didn’t have the authority to order the recall of the estimated two million toys that had already been sold. Planet Toys refused, Bryant explained.
What was potentially more serious was that neither company would do a nationwide notification plan to warn consumers of the hazard contained in the holiday toys.
You’ve got to wonder how many children have sucked asbestos fibers into their lungs during the 20 months while CBS did nothing and CPSC ignored the issue.
“We urge everyone to get these products out of your homes and away from children, and to send in your claim form to get a refund,” said Public Justice’s Victoria Ni, co-counsel in the case.
Its testing was a gutsy and costly thing for the volunteer asbestos organization to undertake.
“We had no choice,” Reinstein said. “We heard rumors that many products contained asbestos and we tried to find out if it was true.”
The asbestos group is one of the most active players in getting the beleaguered, politically mired asbestos ban out of Congress.
“Even though the dangers of asbestos have been well-documented for more than 100 years, we’re still finding it in common household products. That’s simply unacceptable,” Reinstein said.
The settlement provides cash refunds to consumers throughout the U.S. who bought, or received as a gift, one or more CSI Exam Kits or Lab Kits sold by CBS, Toys “R” Us, Hammacher Schlemmer, Walgreens, Amazon.com, Buy.com, Sears, Kmart, and QVC.
Here is a link to more information on the recalls and for claim forms: www.csitoyssettlement.com