L.A. Firm Is Fined $10 Million Over Lead-Tainted Lunchboxes; (Los Angeles Times)
Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2008
A Los Angeles company that sold 100,000 lead-tainted
lunchboxes to the state health department last year has been ordered to pay a
$10-million fine for violating California laws on toxic substances.
Environmental activists and legal experts said the default judgment issued
Tuesday in San Francisco County Superior Court against T-A Creations Inc. was
the highest they could recall since voters approved Proposition 65 in 1986.
"We are shocked that a company would knowingly sell lead-tainted
lunchboxes intended for California's
children," said Michael Green, executive director of the Center for
Environmental Health, an Oakland-based nonprofit group. "The judgment
sends a strong signal that companies that put our children's health at risk
will pay the price."
Spokesman Charles Margulis said the center notified T-A Creations in April 2006
that it had found unsafe lead concentrations in one of its lunchboxes sold to a
summer camp. The company did nothing to correct the problem, he said. The
center sued T-A Creations in July 2006.
According to state law, the Center for Environmental Health would get $2.5
million from the default judgment, and $7.5 million is to go to a special state
environmental research and enforcement fund.
David Chen, T-A Creations' chief executive, said Wednesday that he had not been
informed of the court decision. He declined to comment further.
The order by Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer also permanently bars T-A
Creations, which sells a variety of bags and cases, from "offering soft
food and beverage containers, including lunchboxes, lunchbags and coolers, for
sale in California
without providing clear and reasonable warnings of carcinogenic and
reproductive harm caused by lead and lead compounds."
Proposition 65, known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,
requires the posting of public warnings in businesses or on products that could
expose people to chemicals that government scientists have found cause cancer
or birth defects.
Lead is a carcinogen that is particularly dangerous to the developing brains
and nervous systems of children. Even exposure to small amounts can affect a
child's learning ability, hearing, growth, nervous system and gastrointestinal
The lunchbox incident was among a flurry of cases last year involving
lead-tainted children's jewelry, bibs, toys and novelty items — many
manufactured in China.
The lunchboxes proved embarrassing to the California Department of Public
Health, which purchased the products to give away at fairs promoting healthful
living, including eating fresh fruit and vegetables.
In September, public health authorities recalled 300,000 green and blue canvas
lunchboxes the department had distributed throughout the state since 2004. A
spot check by a Sacramento County lab found lead levels in some boxes "significantly
above" the state's legal limit of 600 parts per million.
At the same time, the Center for Environmental Health was pursuing a lawsuit
against T-A Creations and other lunchbox sellers, aimed at reaching agreements
to remove lead from their products.
"We went to court repeatedly and asked the court to rule on the case, and
the court continued to put us off to give T-A Creations a chance to appear.
They never did," center spokesman Margulis said. T-A Creations, he said,
was the only one of about 20 lunchbox sellers that did not reach a settlement.
Kramer's judgment against T-A Creations was particularly severe, legal experts
"This was a serious violation," said Harrison Pollak, a state deputy
attorney general who handles environmental enforcement cases.
"Ten million dollars is huge," said Lana Beckett, publisher of
Proposition 65 Clearinghouse, a legal newsletter. She noted that settlements in
156 cases in 2007 totaled only $13.6 million.