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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. yesterday sued five baby furniture manufacturers for failing to warn consumers about the dangerous levels of formaldehyde gas emitted by their products, including cribs and changing tables.
“We’re suing these companies because parents deserve to know if there’s a dangerous chemical in products for children,” Attorney General Brown said. “Over the past two years, we’ve brought other actions to ensure the safety of children’s products, such as lead in toys and phthalates in baby bibs. Increasingly, the wood and other materials in consumer products are produced globally, and the lack of tough safeguards and strict enforcement can lead to dangerous levels of exposure.”
Passed by voters in 1986, Proposition 65 requires manufacturers to provide “clear and reasonable warnings” of chemicals in their products that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The state’s lawsuit alleges that Child Craft, Delta Enterprise Corp., Stork Craft, South Shore Industries and Jardine Enterprises manufactured baby furniture, such as cribs and changing tables, that emit formaldehyde—a chemical known to cause cancer—and failed to provide any warning about this risk.
In addition to being a carcinogen, formaldehyde has been shown to contribute to respiratory problems like asthma. The levels of formaldehyde gas emitted from the baby furniture, when combined with other potential sources of formaldehyde in the home, are high enough to cause respiratory irritation to children sleeping in the cribs.
The Environmental California Research and Policy Center, an organization that evaluates products for carcinogens, tested the companies’ baby furniture. Based on that testing and on his own test results, the Attorney General calculated that the furniture exposes children to formaldehyde gas at levels well above the Proposition 65 limit of 40 micrograms per day.
In addition to violating Proposition 65 standards for emission levels, the baby products exceed the recommendations for formaldehyde emission set by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the Department of Public Health. Formaldehyde is present in plywood, particle board (generally in the glues), fiberglass, paint and insulation. Concentrations can reach especially dangerous levels in rooms that are not well-ventilated.
Businesses that violate Proposition 65 are subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. In addition, courts may order businesses to stop manufacturing products that are in violation of the standards. Today’s lawsuit seeks to remedy past violations and to prompt manufacturers and retailers to prevent baby furniture containing formaldehyde from being sold without warning consumers about the risks of exposure.
The state is also suing the companies for violating the Unfair Competition Law, which prevents businesses from undertaking any action that gives them an advantage over other businesses. In this case, by not posting warnings about carcinogens on their products like other companies must do under the law, the five companies unfairly profited. The state is seeking $2,500 for each violation.
Proposition 65 is enforced through lawsuits brought by the attorney general, district attorneys and some city attorneys. Lawsuits may also be brought by private parties after notifying the attorney general of the alleged violation. Last November, Attorney General Brown and Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard Delgadillo sued twenty toy companies for manufacturing or selling toys with unlawful quantities of lead.
Although Proposition 65 only requires companies to post hazard warnings, many businesses choose to eliminate the toxic chemicals altogether. For more information about Prop 65, please visit http://ag.ca.gov/prop65/index.php.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit is attached.