Build-A-Bear Workshop Exposed for Selling Lead-containing Charms

Oakland, CA-The Center for Environmental Health today announced it has found high levels of lead in charms sold by Build-A-Bear Workshop, the retailer of stuffed animals for children. Despite CEH’s repeated efforts to engage the company in addressing the problem, including a pending lawsuit and a letter the nonprofit sent to Build-A-Bear founder and CEO Maxine Clark on April 30, Build-A-Bear has refused to take appropriate action to address the lead threats its products pose to children’s health.

 

“We are disappointed that a company that trades in its reputation for creating friendship, trust and comfort with its young patrons would be so cavalier about high levels of lead in the products they sell to our children,” said CEH Executive Director Michael Green. “Parents should know that at Build-A-Bear, that teddy bear charm may be toxic.”

 

In March, CEH purchased a “Love. Hugs. Peace. Collectibear® Pin” from Build-A-Bear, and independent lab tests show the piece contains lead at more than 10 times the legal limit under the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Despite warning the company about this lead level, the item is still for sale on the company’s website .   Small charms have been repeatedly found as lead exposure threats to children, who often chew on and may even swallow such items.

 

CEH first notified Build-A-Bear of the issue of high levels of lead in its products in December 2007, when CEH sent the company  a legal notice informing them that a charm purchased at a California Build-A-Bear store tested by an independent laboratory contained lead above the legal limit.  Because Build-A-Bear refused to take appropriate action at that time, in July 2008 CEH filed a lawsuit charging the company with violation of California consumer protection law.

 

Since then, the court has repeatedly sanctioned Build-A-Bear for failure to comply with court orders, and issued an order to show cause why further sanctions should not be imposed for “continued failure to comply with applicable Rules of Court, failure to provide responses to the discovery demands of Plaintiff, and failure to timely and effectively pursue its defense of the case.”  The court has also imposed over $12,000 in monetary sanctions.

 

In an email response to CEH’s April 30 letter, Build-A-Bear this week failed to address the fundamental problem of lead in its charms, its failure to respond to the CEH lawsuit, or the outstanding court sanctions (some of which are overdue).  Instead, the company sent lab results from March 2009 showing that a sample of the “Love. Hugs. Peace. Collectibear Pin” tested at that time was found in compliance with federal laws.

 

 

 

But without further documentation, a single test result from a year ago does not address the issue of a March 2010 independent lab test showing lead levels in violation of federal law.

 

Build-A-Bear is a publicly traded company (BBW) operating 345 Build-A-Bear Workshop retail stores, with another franchisee-operated 65 stores. Founded in 1997 and headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, the company’s 2009 annual revenue was nearly $468 million.

 

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has a long history of successfully enforcing California’s landmark consumer protection law, known as Proposition 65 (Prop 65).  For example, working with the California Attorney General, CEH has previously settled lawsuits with more than 150 companies, including major retailers Target, Macy’s, Kmart/Sears, and dozens of others,  who agreed to end sales of lead-containing children’s and adult jewelry. The nonprofit is currently investigating jewelry and other children’s products for compliance with California law under grants administered by the California Attorney General.

 

(following is Michael Green’s letter to Build-A-Bear CEO Maxine Clark)

 

April 30, 2010

 

Maxine Clark

Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive

Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc.

1954 Innerbelt Business Center Drive

Saint Louis, MO 63114

 

Dear Ms. Clark:

 

I am the Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Health (“CEH”), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting children and families from toxic chemicals and promoting business products and practices that are safe for public health and the environment. I am writing to insure that you are aware of the important safety issues regarding lead-containing products sold by Build-A-Bear.

 

CEH has a long history of successfully enforcing California’s landmark right-to-know law known as Proposition 65 (Prop 65).  For example, working with the California Attorney General, CEH has previously settled lawsuits with more than 150 companies who agreed to end sales of lead-containing children’s and adult jewelry. We are currently investigating jewelry and other children’s products for compliance with California law under grants administered by the California Attorney General.

 

CEH’s investigation has revealed a significant problem with lead in charms sold by Build-A-Bear.  CEH first notified Build-A-Bear of the issue of lead in its products in December 2007 by sending Build-A-Bear a 60-day pre-suit Notice of Violation under Prop 65.  As CEH and Build-A-Bear were unable to resolve CEH’s allegations, CEH filed suit against Build-A-Bear in July 2008.  Since that time, Build-A-Bear has largely ignored CEH’s suit and its obligations in the case, resulting in multiple Court sanctions against the company.  To date, the Court has imposed over $12,000 in monetary sanctions for failing to comply with Court orders, and has issued an order to show cause why further sanctions should not be imposed for “continued failure to comply with applicable Rules of Court, failure to provide responses to the discovery demands of Plaintiff, and failure to timely and effectively pursue its defense of the case.”

 

Meanwhile, just last month, we purchased from Build-A-Bear’s online store a “Love. Hugs. Peace. Collectibear® Pin” that, according to independent lab testing, contains more than ten times the amount of lead allowed under the recent federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

 

As a parent of two toddlers, I know that product safety is paramount when I am shopping for my kids.  CEH has been proud to be known as a resource parents can turn to for advice on companies that take product safety seriously. I understand that as CEO you have many priorities and responsibilities, but I urge you to please use your power and responsibility as CEO to ensure that Build-A-Bear addresses this problem, by:

 

  • Immediately recalling the “Love. Hugs. Peace. Collectibear® Pin”;
  • Proactively screening your suppliers to insure they are not providing products and materials that contain toxic chemicals;
  • Taking steps to improve your pre- and post-market testing to insure compliance with federal and state safety laws; and
  • Instructing your legal counsel to contact our attorney Howard Hirsch at the Lexington Law Group (415-759-4111) to resolve these outstanding issues.

 

I look forward to your taking these steps on or before May 10, 2010 to insure that the health of your young customers is not endangered by lead-containing products. If you have any general questions about our work at CEH, please contact my assistant Jody Parsons at 510-655-3900 x314, and she can arrange a time for us to talk.

 

Very truly yours,

 

Michael Green