One would think that once such a massive recall is issued, stores would pull all of the product off of the shelves so that no child can be further harmed by the lead in the paint. This, I guess, is not true.
A spot check of more than 100 retailers by state investigators showed that the toys still were on sale in a handful of stores and that numerous other stores had failed to post recall notices, the Illinois attorney general's office announced Wednesday.
Further, the investigators turned up packages of the toys that at first glance appeared not to be included in the recall but on closer examination were found to have a second wooden toy train piece inside that is part of the recall. Company officials later told state authorities that some toys subject to recall may be packaged with toys not covered by the recall.
As a result, the attorney general's office said the scope of the wooden train recall could be much larger than originally thought and that its investigators likely will conduct another statewide sweep to check whether those train sets are being pulled from store shelves.
The attorney general's office, prompted by a Tribune report Sunday of lead paint being found on a metal Take Along Thomas railway toy, also obtained about 20 samples and plans to have them tested. The story detailed how a Kansas City public health nurse complained to the Consumer Product Safety Commission last year after a check at the home of a child who had an elevated level of lead poisoning showed the train car was covered with paint containing lead. The nurse said she had never been contacted by the safety commission.
Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan on Wednesday expressed her frustration over what her investigation has discovered and lashed out at the safety commission.
"What we have found is that it is a disaster," Madigan said. "The entire process designed to protect our children from unsafe products is a disaster. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is understaffed and underfunded and uninterested. They don't do any testing. As a parent, what are we supposed to do, become amateur scientists?"
On June 13, the CPSC announced the recall of the Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys. None of the company's metal trains were included.
But when state investigators began purchasing packages of the Red James Engine & Red James' #5 Coal Tender that listed the toys as metal, they found that the coal tender was made of wood and subject to the recall.
Investigators purchased about 20 of the toys, and they will be sent to an environmental testing laboratory. Results are expected by next week, Madigan's office said.
"The fact that these mixed products would be overlooked is a problem," said Cara Smith, Madigan's deputy chief of staff for policy and communication. "I'm a lawyer and I can't figure this out. We may have a much larger recall problem than anyone thought in Illinois and across the nation."
Smith said information from the company indicates that the popular train toys in various combinations have been manufactured at three factories in China. Because of the confusion over the sets that contain both wooden and metal toys, she believes the state's survey may have missed recalled toys on the shelves, and that the investigators likely will be sent back to stores that reported they had none of the recalled toys.
"We only asked about the wooden sets, not any mixed sets," she said.
The investigators visited 138 retail outlets throughout the state and found 55 stores that carried the Thomas & Friends railway toys. Just under half of the stores, 24, had pulled the toy and posted the notice of the recall, Smith said.
Eight stores -- three Target outlets, two Kohl's, a Wal-Mart, a Kmart and the Chicago Children's Museum gift shop -- had failed to take the recalled items from the shelves or post the recall notices, she said. Three Toys "R" Us stores had posted the notice but left the recalled toys on the shelves.
Twenty other stores had removed the toys from their shelves but did not post the notice of the recall, Smith said.
The recall is one of the largest in recent years for toys containing lead, a toxic metal linked to brain damage in children. The company has said it discovered the problem but has declined do discuss how, when or where the discovery was made.
China, where the toy trains were made, is the source of more than eight out of 10 toy recalls since 2004 and the source of 72 percent of all recalls since 2004 for children's products, including toys, according to a Tribune analysis of CPSC recall data.
Just To be safe, it may be a good idea to put away ALL of your child's Thomas Trains until it is determined which are really safe and which ones are not.