Minnesota regulators move to halt sales of toxic toys

A boxed toy
During a press conference Tuesday, Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley announced a ban on off-brand spinning battle toys that have been found to contain dangerous levels of lead and cadmium. Bleyblade-style toys from name brands like Hasbro and Takaratomy have not shown concerning levels of lead or cadmium.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The Minnesota Department of Commerce ordered three prominent online retailers Tuesday to remove toys for sale in the state after harmful toxins were detected.

Commissioner Steve Kelley used a decades-old law to halt sales of a series of off-brand toys on Amazon.com, AliExpress.com and Wish.com. The 15 popular spinning battle toys were found to have toxic levels of lead and cadmium.

“Young children and families who may be attracted to off-brand prices are some of the most vulnerable populations in Minnesota,” Kelley said at a Capitol news conference. “As such, the fact these toy manufacturers were so careless is particularly upsetting.”

The banned toys are knockoffs of legitimate Beyblade spinner toys from reputable manufacturers. The order gave the retailers 24 hours to comply. They were told to stop selling 15 products, post disclaimers about them and set up a system for customer returns and refunds.

If they don’t comply, Kelley said he’s prepared to go to court.

An Amazon spokesperson says customer safety is a priority, and the company will take appropriate action after getting the Minnesota directive.

“Selling partners are required to comply with all relevant laws and regulations when listing items for sale in our stores,” the Amazon statement read. “Those who do not will be subject to action, including removal of selling privileges and withholding of funds.”

The other retailers didn't immediately respond to MPR News questions about their plans.

The toys are believed to be responsible for one Minnesota child’s elevated lead levels.

That case led to a joint investigation by the state Commerce, Health and Pollution Control agencies.

A close up of a child's hands holding a toy that spins.
Nicholas Prail, 4, plays with a name-brand spinning battle toy during a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol. Bleyblade-style toys from name brands like Hasbro and Takaratomy have not shown concerning levels of lead or cadmium.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Daniel Huff, an assistant commissioner at the Health Department, said exposure to lead and cadmium can have severe consequences for children, from affecting bone growth to kidney damage.

“Heavy metal exposure usually does not show up until later on,” Huff said. “But both of these cause neurological damage or brain damage.”

Huff said parents of children six and younger should have their children regularly screened for lead at their annual wellness checkups.

What troubled regulators here is that the toys looked almost identical to products made by well-established manufacturers.

“The packaging and branding of these off-brand toys versus the name brand toys was remarkably similar,” Kelley said. “They were clearly designed to confuse the consumer about what they were buying.”

Beyblades are a souped up version of a spinning top. A player pulls a zip cord and a rotating disc drops down. When there are multiple blades, they bump into each other.

That’s where the cadmium and lead parts cause worries because dust can be emitted.

Kelley and other officials stressed that Beyblades sold under the Hasbro or Takaratomy label were tested, too. And they were deemed safe.

To date, officials haven’t encountered any of the products on the shelves at brick-and-mortar stores.

The commissioner said shoppers have to be alert.

“Be cautious of toys that are significantly cheaper than name brand products, include mistakes in the package or do not match the advertisement the consumer may have seen,” Kelley said.

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