MILLVILLE, N.J. —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 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 Web site, McDonald's said customers can learn how to return the glasses and request a refund by visiting www.mcdonalds.com/glasses or calling McDonald's toll-free number, 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, like lead, can 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.
Wolfson 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."
Whitman said about 7 million of the glasses had been sold since the promotion began May 21, and 5 million or so more were in restaurants or had not yet been shipped.