Reebok To Pay $1 Million Fine After Lead Poisoning Death

Two years ago athletic shoe giant Reebok announced a recall of 300,000 lead tainted charm bracelets that were given away as free gifts with the purchase of children’s footwear.

In March 2006, a 4-year-old boy from Minneapolis who swallowed the bracelet’s heart-shaped pendant died from lead poisoning. Now Reebok has agreed to pay a $1 million penalty, the largest ever for a Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) violation. Reebok denies wrongdoing.

Lead-tainted jewelry such as this charm bracelet is not uncommon these days. There were over 17 million items recalled for lead contamination in 2007 alone.

Reebok to Pay Record $1,000,000 Civil Penalty for Violation of Federal Hazardous Substances Act


Edit Your Comment

  1. PirateSmurf says:

    let me guess they were made in China……

  2. cmdr.sass says:

    Not only does the family win $1 million, but the kid qualifies for a Darwin Award. Way to go!

  3. chiieddy says:

    Perhaps if the companies provide more testing of their products before they’re released to the public, this stuff wouldn’t happen as there would be… GASP… quality control.

    Reebok is based in MA. There’s currently a bill in the legislature to make all sellers of merchandise responsible for making sure the merchandise is lead-free.

  4. backbroken says:

    @cmdr.sass: Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first ever “4 year old dies from lead poisoning” blame the consumer comment!!

    Is this a jump the shark moment?

  5. EmperorOfCanada says:

    This is a terrible thing that happened.. however kids will be kids and its not like had it been lead free would it have been a good idea to swallow this thing.

  6. Cool story bro says:

    @cmdr.sass: The kid was four years old. I think he’s a bit young for a Darwin award.

  7. formatc says:

    @cmdr.sass: Swallowing a shiny trinket is part of growing up and inattention by the parents. To qualify him as a candidate for a Darwin Award is a bit callus.

  8. douglips says:

    @cmdr.sass: Four year olds are supposed to act like children.

    My daughter swallowed a penny once. If it had been a lead pendant and she died, I guess that would have served me right! Heh heh. Dead four year olds are hilarious.

    Seriously, if you can’t see a difference between an adult dying while stealing copper wire and a four year old putting a toy in his mouth, you need help.

  9. Not too often someone dies from stuff like this. I think most 4 year olds would have grown out of the insert-anything-into-mouth phase, but DAMN that must have been a lot of lead to kill the poor kid.

  10. redrover189 says:

    @formatc: Seriously, some of my fondest memories of my youth are of sitting out in the sandbox, putting shiny things in my mouth.

  11. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @EmperorOfCanada: True, but the kid might have lived. Anyone making a product aimed at very young children has to assume that the product is going to end up in the kids mouth and should therefore make it out of non-toxic materials.

  12. I may be ignorant, but the LD50 for lead is ~100mg/kg. How much lead was in this charm? Is lead immediately digestible? How much sloughs off during the travel through the GI tract? I can’t seem to picture how in the small time in the body, it could leech out enough lead to kill someone. Can anyone explain it to me, and NO, I’m not blaming anyone.

  13. Canerican says:

    Heavy metal poisoning does not look good on most companies’ records.

    That being said, here come the moronic convergence of Liberal tort lawyers.

    You guys better go out quick and buy some lead tainted stuff, then you can sue sue sue.

  14. soulman901 says:

    Coming soon to you, it’s Leadough, the fun clay like substance that molds to whatever you want it to be. You can make a butterfly, a lion, even a horse. It’s fun for the whole family. Don’t miss out on this fun new product today!*

    *Please note that Leadough has a high lead content. Taking a shower after playing with Leadough is recommended. Do not play with for more than 30 seconds or Leadough will absorb in the skin. Please do not eat Leadough. If Leadough consumption occurs, please get immediate medical attention. Please do not use Leadough until Waiver of Rights is signed and mailed back to Sun Shine Lollypops Toy Factory, PO BOX 666 Oakhurst CA 94534

  15. DrGirlfriend says:

    @EmperorOfCanada: It wouldn’t have been a good idea, but it may not have killed him. I work in a hospital, and kids get admitetd and safely discharged for “foreign body extraction” emergency admissions failry regularly.

    Also, I’m not sure 4 year olds are known for their good ideas.

  16. chemmy says:

    Probably wasn’t a good idea to give out charm bracelets with children’s shoes if the kids could eat them… That was flawed in the beginning…

  17. matto says:

    You guys can bicker all you want, but at least Reebolk took it seriously.

  18. matto says:

    blast, another pithy comment marred by sloppy proofing

  19. @Git Em SteveDave: OK, I read the settlement, and the charms contained between “3,441 to 9,856 micrograms of accessible lead”. At most, that is 9.8 mg of lead. That is nowhere near the 100mg/Kg of the LD50. I’m now very confused.

  20. Dashrashi says:

    @backbroken: I think it really might be a jump-the-shark moment. If Consumerist had a worst comment feature, I think it’d definitely be a contender.

  21. druther says:

    As far as the family “winning” $1 mill, you might have noticed that Reebok was assessed a fine (which goes to the gov’t), not that the family was awarded a settlement. No sweat though, I’m sure you were too busy racing to your keyboard to insult the intelligence of a dead toddler to read the post very carefully. Happens to me all the time.

  22. Dashrashi says:

    @Git Em SteveDave: LD50 is 50%, oui? No reason to think a smaller amount couldn’t kill a smaller percentage of people. Also, aren’t LD50s and such calculated on adults or otherwise average people? I’m assuming the 4 yo had a rather low body mass–I’d imagine it takes much less lead to kill a child than it would a full-grown adult.

  23. Amnesiac85 says:

    @cmdr.sass: Wow, that may be one of the worst comments I’ve ever seen.

  24. PirateSmurf says:

    These were made in China, maybe the USA will get a clue and stop exporting manufacturing business and go back to the label of Made in the USA. Our country is turning to crap because we are shipping jobs overseas to make more profit at the cost of safety and monitoring.

    Hell China doesnt have to take us over all it has to do is continue to put lead in all the products we import from them. Eventually all Americans will either be dead or stupefied by lead poisoning. Then they can be free to move in and take over.

  25. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    @Amnesiac85: agreed

  26. 44 in a Row says:

    OK, I read the settlement, and the charms contained between “3,441 to 9,856 micrograms of accessible lead”. At most, that is 9.8 mg of lead. That is nowhere near the 100mg/Kg of the LD50. I’m now very confused.

    100 micrograms per kilogram. I highly, highly doubt this bracelet was a kilogram.

  27. 44 in a Row says:

    Nevermind, I have no idea how anything works. Ignore me…

  28. @Dashrashi: Well, the average 4 y/o weighs 20 kg. That would mean it “should” take 2,000mg to be lethal to 50% of the population. If we even take a quarter of that, and say 500mg, that is still nowhere near the 9.8mg that the tests said could be gotten from the charm.

  29. @Dashrashi:LD50’s are calculated on animals so as not to poison real people. The amount is then scaled up to “human” sizes. But even still, unless your allergic, I don’t see how .5% of the amount could kill someone, if you use the high end of the scale. And the suit was for poisoning, not allergic reaction.

  30. thedragonlady says:

    Here’s some more information, that may help those trying to do the math.

    from: []

    In February of this year, a four-year-old boy was taken to the emergency department of a Minneapolis hospital due to complaints of vomiting. He was sent home with what was thought to be flu symptoms.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, two days later his family returned with him to the emergency department, this time with vomiting, a “sore tummy”, and listlessness. He was admitted to the hospital. The next day, a CT scan was performed revealing a heart shaped object that was later determined to be a foreign body and triggering a request for heavy metal testing. The blood lead level reported the following day was 180 ug/dL. It was on the fourth day of hospitalization that the four-year-old child was removed from life support and died.

    The object the child digested was discovered to be a charm used as a promotional item with the purchase of Reebok shoes. Tests on similar Reebok charms showed varying levels of lead up to 67%. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the limit for lead in jewelry is no more than 0.06%. These Reebok charm bracelets were voluntarily recalled on March 23, 2006.

    Seems to me that this kid was failed at almost every step of this story.

  31. noquarter says:

    @Git Em SteveDave: Without really knowing anything about this, let me just chime in with some thoughts:
    Maybe the LD50 for a 4-year-old is much less than for the general population.
    Maybe the LD1 is in the 9.8mg/20kg range.
    Maybe the kid’s levels were higher than 0 to begin with.

  32. magic8ball says:

    Somebody remind me … why does stuff get made out of lead? Is it, like, super cheap? Easily obtainable? Easy to work with (other than the toxicity factor)?

  33. 44 in a Row says:

    And the suit was for poisoning, not allergic reaction.

    Actually, if I’m reading this right, it’s not a suit. No money is going to the parents; the release says, “a manufacturer of athletic shoes and apparel has agreed to pay the government a $1,000,000 civil penalty (pdf)”. This isn’t a lawsuit settlement; this is a fine for violating the FHSA.

  34. @magic8ball: lead makes things look shiny/glossy an is very cheap as an additive.

  35. Nighthawke says:

    Two words: Bitter Apple. It contains rubbing alcohol and bitter extracts from fruits. Available at your local pet shop or veterinary supply., just spritz it on the toys the kids play with. Keeps them from licking or sucking their fingers afterward. Inspires early sanitary practice!

  36. PirateSmurf says:

    @magic8ball: Lead is cheap, is sometimes used as a filler in pewter, is easily malleable and formable, has a high luster.

  37. dorkins says:

    @PirateSmurf: Chinese lead is deadlier.

  38. Techguy1138 says:

    Lead in an excellent material to work with. It is highly malleable and combines well with other metals to form alloys. It has a low melting point and is pretty when polished, similar to silver.

    Solder in both electronic and plumbing contained led until recently because of it’s ease of use. Plumber and plumbing both come from the Roman empire where lead (pb) was used for plumbing.

    It is inexpensive and plentiful. A wonderful metal really.

    It is also bad for neurological development and is sometimes credited as a factor in the fall of the Roman empire. In high doses it is fatal.

  39. Landru says:

    @cmdr.sass: Totally the worst comment I’ve ever seen. Why are you here?

  40. PirateSmurf says:

    @Nighthawke: That stuff tastes so God awful, I used some of that on Dog proofing the mini sprinkler head and got some on my hand and forgot to wash my hands, I was eating something and was licking the salt from my mcD’s fries of my fingers and OMG Bleh, nasty stuff…

  41. chemmy says:

    Ok, sue Reebok because they have a lead-tainted product.

    But didn’t the hospital misdiagnose him and send him home? And only figured it out when he was dying anyway?

    Sad case.

  42. Quite a lot of kids have managed to swallow solid lead fishing sinkers and survive with no obvious damage. But the abovementioned blood lead concentration is well into the lethal range, so one can only presume that something about this high-lead-content charm made it particularly bioavailable.

    Offhand, I’d guess that the charm’s shape gives it a large ratio of surface area to volume (if the whole darn thing including the bracelet was swallowed, then that’d be quite a lot of surface area). The particular alloy used might also not readily form a protective layer of lead oxide, which is what prevents water that’s passed through lead pipes from being nearly as toxic as you’d think it’d be.

    The timeline of the report also suggests that the charm was big enough that it got stuck in the kid’s stomach, so stomach acid kept acting on it and it kept delivering lead into the bloodstream for much longer than an object that went right through the kid would have done.

  43. bananaballs says:

    @cmdr.sass: wow. you are an asshole.

  44. girly says:

    What a heart-wrenching story.

  45. Michael Belisle says:

    “Aye, now they’re learn to stay away from me lucky charms.”

  46. BStu says:

    I really, really hope the family sues the heck of Reebok. Frankly, I doubt $1 million will be much deterrent on its own, and gosh knows the family would deserve whatever they would gain in court.

  47. rjhiggins says:

    @Dashrashi: A worst-comment button! What a fantastic idea!

  48. Dashrashi says:

    @rjhiggins: Better in some ways than a button: Jezebel does public shamings.

  49. magic8ball says:
  50. drharris says:

    The way to solve this problem everywhere is simply to stop buying cheap crap from China. If only the next president would step up and say they’d put sanctions on China until they regulate the industry there, it might make someone electable.

  51. PirateSmurf says:

    Common people everyone knows Lead sucks, Mecury tastes way better!!

  52. PirateSmurf says:

    @drharris: partly right, the complete correct answer is to not buy anything from China, this includes food, after all China is trying to poison us, and our pets…..but we are so stupid we still send China our business.

  53. SpenceMan01 says:

    @BStu: @44 in a Row: Local news up here said that Reebok had settled privately with the family.

    This article [] says that the charm was 99% lead. A comment above stated 67%. Either way, it was WAY too much to be in there.

  54. Kierst_thara says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how Reebok can agree to pay a $1 million dollar fine, and still deny any wrongdoing on their part…

  55. thedragonlady says:

    @BStu: Really, sue Reebok? Granted the lead charm bracelets as a purchase incentive for children’s shoes was a bad idea, but, I really doubt Reebok in any way implied or stated that these charm bracelets were good teething rings or appropriate for 4 year olds to put in their mouths.

    How about the parents? Should we sue them too, because they obviously weren’t supervising the little boy properly, or he wouldn’t have swallowed the thing in the first place? Or, at the very least they would have realized he swallowed it and notified doctors in the ER so he could be properly diagnosed. Since they’re the parents, I guess they really can’t be sued. Maybe law enforcement should bring criminal charges? Child neglect, sounds good, right?

    And, finally, if Reebok is getting sued, they *have* to sue the hospital. How incompetent of the ER doctors to not realize this kid swallowed something toxic and if they didn’t remove it immediately it was going to kill him. Seems like a clear cut case of malpractice to me. Hospital should be made to pay up too.

    Sadly this kid died because a lot of people who should have made the right decisions didn’t. But I can’t see any one party being more responsible for this child’s death than another.

  56. chatterboxwriting says:

    @thedragonlady: Malpractice is usually a deviation from the standard of care that causes harm to a patient. Of course, we don’t have the child’s medical chart here, but it sounds like they didn’t deviate from the standard of care. The child was vomiting – without other more serious symptoms accompanying the vomiting, the standard of care would probably be to hydrate the patient (IV fluids since they couldn’t keep liquids down) and discharge with instructions to the parent to monitor symptoms and bring the kid back if they worsened. It isn’t the standard of care to order a CT scan every time someone has vomiting – if they ordered a $1,000 test every time someone threw up, our medical costs would be even more out of hand. I feel terrible for this family, but I don’t think the hospital is liable, based on the information we were given.

  57. thedragonlady says:

    @chatterboxwriting: Unfortunately, I don’t do sarcasm as well when writing as I do when speaking. My muddled point was that I don’t think any one person/entity is entirely at fault here.

    My opinion is this was just a ridiculously tragic domino effect that resulted in the accidental death of a child.

  58. dualityshift says:

    You should be banned, then die in a fire, after being coated with lead paint.

  59. Dashrashi says:

    @thedragonlady: Dude, it’s pretty clear that one should not give lead objects to children, regardless of whether you advertise it as a teething ring or not, because reasonable people understand that kids are stupid and put things in their mouth that they shouldn’t. That’s why some toys are marked for Ages 8+ or whatever–smaller kids are at risk for choking on small pieces, for instance, even though the toymakers are selling them as Legos and not candy. Everyone understands that legos might get swallowed by kids, and everyone would be very and rightfully upset if suddenly legos were made out of lead. Saying, “What? We never told anyone to eat legos” doesn’t seem likely to succeed as a defense there.

  60. alejo699 says:

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that an item designed to be worn against the skin would not contain toxic metals.
    In other news, if we all ignored morons like cmdr.sass, would they eventually get bored and stop trolling? I think we should give it a try, since they’re getting exactly what they want when everyone gets pissed off at them. Just an idea.

  61. chatterboxwriting says:

    @thedragonlady – Understood.