LOS ANGELES - Federal regulators leaned on McDonald's to quickly recall 12 million "Shrek"- themed drinking glasses this spring because they concluded that a typical 6-year-old could be exposed to hazardous levels of the metal cadmium by touching one of the glasses just eight times in a day, according to documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Of the four collectibles in the series tied to the hit movie “Shrek Forever After,” the glass depicting the character Puss in Boots, with a predominantly orange design, prompted the recall push.
The investigatory file shows how the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission aggressively turned a tip that the glasses contained cadmium in their colored exterior designs into an assessment that the Puss in Boots glasses posed an unacceptable risk to younger kids.
It was a first-of-its-kind recall for the agency, which wasn’t accustomed to testing for cadmium in glassware and had no official level at which results would represent a health hazard. Yet within a week, McDonald’s had agreed to urge its customers to return all the glasses, even though the fast food giant didn’t think they posed a serious health danger – and the agency thought only one from the set did.
“Staff took an approach at the time that was highly protective of children, and McDonald’s took a proactive approach in conducting the recall,” safety commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said in response to questions about the 124 pages from the file, many of them completely whited out, that the agency provided to The Associated Press.
There have been no reports of illness from the glasses, and no one has suggested that a child could be stricken just by handling one. The concern has been long-term, low-level exposure to a metal that when ingested accumulates in the body for decades and at high enough levels can punch holes in kidneys, soften bones and, according to new research, hinder the development of young brains. It also is a carcinogen.
Cadmium is used in a range of consumer products – in glassware, it is a pigment. Manufacturers say there’s no viable alternative if they want bold “fire engine” red for their designs, and that oranges and yellows are difficult to produce without it.
The agency’s testing showed that children could rub off some cadmium when they touched the glasses. When young consumers put their contaminated hands to their mouths, whether because they’re eating or just being a kid, they’d be ingesting a poison.