From May 2004 to March 2006, athletic apparel giant Reebok gave charm bracelets as “free gifts” to accompany 300,000 pairs of children’s footwear. After swallowing the bracelet’s heart-shaped charm, a 4-year-old boy from Minneapolis suffered vomiting and seizures before he stopped breathing and died at a local hospital. Later, the bracelet was found to be in extreme violation of lead standards for children’s jewelry.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) “urges manufacturers of children’s metal jewelry to keep lead content below 0.06% by weight,” wrote the organization in a press release. The final reports show that testing found the bracelets to contain anywhere from 78 to 93 percent lead.
That’s well over one thousand times the legal limit, making the bracelet excessively toxic to children like Jarnell Brown, whose death was quickly reported to the company and prompted a recall of any remaining bracelets.
Two years later, Reebok has been fined $1 million, the largest penalty ever to be administered by the CPSC for an extreme violation of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. The final settlement concludes that Reebok knew the product would be handled and potentially swallowed by children, but “failed to take action to ensure that the charm bracelets did not contain toxic levels of lead, thereby creating a risk of lead poisoning and adverse health effects to children.”
Agreeing to pay the $1 million dollar civil penalty is “for settlement purposes only,” and is not considered admission that the company has done anything wrong. Reebok continues to deny all allegations that it violated federal law.
However, the CPSC sees the penalty, the largest it has administered for this violation, as a warning to companies that enforcement of lead paint standards is a point of priority for the agency. “This civil penalty sends a clear message,” said CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord. “The CPSC will not allow companies to put children’s safety at risk.”