Millville: A recall of 12 million cadmium-tainted "Shrek" drinking glasses sold by McDonald`s raises questions about the safety of millions of similar cheap promotional products that have been sitting in Americans` kitchen cabinets for years.
Only glasses produced for the latest "Shrek" movie are included in the voluntary recall announced Friday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, but they were made by a company that McDonald`s has worked with for 15 years. And many other companies make similar glassware with cartoon characters or other designs baked in.
"It could have been any glass company," said Ron Biagi, an executive with Arc International, which made the glasses. "We all do the same thing using materials from the same suppliers."
McDonald`s said the U.S.-made glasses met federal guidelines for cadmium under testing conducted by a CPSC-approved lab. CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson, however, said the glasses fall short of standards for the toxic metal that the agency is in the process of developing.
The CPSC warned consumers to immediately stop using the glasses McDonald`s sold as part of a promotional campaign for the movie "Shrek Forever After." The fast-food giant said it issued the recall "in an abundance of caution" and "in light of CPSC`s evolving assessment of standards for consumer products."
"We believe the Shrek glassware is safe for consumer use," McDonald`s USA spokesman Bill Whitman said. "However, again to ensure that our customers receive safe products from us, we made the decision to stop selling them and voluntarily recall these products effective immediately."
On its website, McDonald`s said customers can learn how to return the glasses and request a refund by visiting http://www.mcdonalds.com/glasses or calling McDonald`s toll-free number, 1-800-244-6227. It also said previous promotional gimmicks and Happy Meal toys are not involved in the recall.
Cadmium is a carcinogen that research shows also can cause bone softening and severe kidney problems. Research also suggests that it can, like lead, hinder brain development in the very young. The CPSC said in its recall notice that long-term exposure to the element "can cause adverse health effects."
In the case of the Shrek-themed glassware, the potential danger would be long-term exposure to low levels of cadmium, which could leach onto a child`s hand and enter the body if the child puts that unwashed hand to his or her mouth.
Michael Wilcox is among those concerned about the recalled glasses and similar items in their homes. The Winston-Salem, N.C., man said his wife collects the glasses and bought the last three Thursday night to complete the set.
"Obviously, if there`s a carcinogen involved, I`m wondering, too, if the ones we`ve been using for the past three years, if we`ve got the same problem going on, if we`ve been exposed to something," Wilcox said.
He said the recall also makes him "a little more curious" about other McDonald`s items such as the toys in Happy Meals. "I don`t know what`s going on with some of this stuff," he said.
Concerns about cadmium exposure emerged in January, when The Associated Press reported that some items of children`s jewelry sold at major national chains contained up to 91 percent of the metal. Federal regulators have recalled many pieces of jewelry containing cadmium, concerned that kids could ingest it by biting, sucking or even swallowing contaminated pendants and bracelets.
All the recalled jewelry was made in China. The drinking glasses are the first American-made products to be recalled.
Wolfson said the recalled glasses have "far less cadmium" than the recalled jewelry. He would not say how much cadmium leached from the glasses in tests, only that it was "slightly above the protective level currently being developed by the agency."
Arc is a French company with a plant in New Jersey; its origins as a glassmaker date to 1825. The company said that it has been making glasses for McDonald`s for 15 years and that levels of cadmium used in the enamel baked into the glass were within current federal safety guidelines.
Biagi, Arc`s vice president of North American sales, said the company was surprised and confused when it got word of the recall Thursday night.
"Our feeling is these glasses are safe," Biagi said.
Biagi said the images on the glasses were made with enamel baked into them rather than paint, a common process. He did not identify Arc`s suppliers.
The 16-ounce glasses were sold for about $2 and were available in four designs depicting the characters Shrek, Princess Fiona, Puss in Boots and Donkey. "Shrek Forever After," the latest installment of the successful DreamWorks Animation franchise, has been No. 1 at the box office since its May 21 release.
Cadmium can be used to create reds and yellows on glassware. Whitman, the McDonald`s spokesman, said a pigment on the glasses contained cadmium.
"A very small amount of cadmium can come to the surface of the glass, and in order to be as protective as possible of children, CPSC and McDonald`s worked together on this recall," said Wolfson, the CPSC spokesman.
Whitman said about 7 million of the glasses had been sold since the promotion began May 21, and another 5 million or so were in restaurants or had not yet been shipped.
Associated Press reporters tried unsuccessfully to buy the glasses late Thursday at McDonald`s in New York, Los Angeles and northern New Jersey but were alternately told the merchandise was sold out, no longer available or "there`ll be more tomorrow."
Federal scrutiny of the glasses began last week. The Washington office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has proposed strictly limiting cadmium in jewelry, received what a spokesman described as an anonymous tip that the glasses contained cadmium.
Speier`s office said the tipster tested the glasses with an X-ray gun that estimates how much cadmium an item contains. Speier`s office requested samples of the glasses from the tipster, and upon receiving them May 27 sent them to the CPSC for further investigation.
"Our children`s health should not depend on the consciences of anonymous sources," Speier said in a statement Friday. "Although McDonald`s did the right thing by recalling these products, we need stronger testing standards to ensure that all children`s products are proven safe before they hit the shelves."