Children's Rights

Brown Takes Action to Make Children's Bounce Houses Safe

August 11, 2010
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND – Continuing his fight to ensure the safety of equipment used by children, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today filed a lawsuit against several companies involved in manufacturing children’s bounce houses because some of the inflatable structures contain unsafe amounts of lead.

Testing done by the Center for the Environmental Health and the Attorney General’s office found that some of the vinyl in the bounce houses contains lead levels that violate both federal and state regulations.

“Kids at birthday parties can spend hours playing in bounce houses,” Brown said. “The goal of our lawsuit is to eliminate any chance they will be exposed to lead while they’re jumping around having a good time.”

Bounce houses are large inflatable structures designed for children to play in and on. Facilities that feature indoor inflatables are popular sites for children’s parties, serving millions of children a year. Companies also rent inflatables for use at children’s parties.

In February and March 2010, the Attorney General’s office received notices from the Center for Environmental Health alleging that its testing showed parts of some bounce houses were contaminated with high levels of lead, ranging from 5,000 parts per million (ppm) to 29,000 ppm. Federal limits on lead in children’s products are 90 ppm for painted surfaces and 300 ppm for all other parts.

Today’s lawsuit is intended to force these companies to stop using lead-containing vinyl immediately and to cease selling the lead-containing products. In addition, the action is intended to warn purchasers of these products, and require party places and rental companies to post warnings.

The main exposure pathway from the bounce house to the child is hand-to-mouth. Lead is transferred from the vinyl to a child’s hand during play and then to the mouth.

There is no safe exposure to lead. The tested levels of lead are not high enough by themselves to cause acute health problems, but some people, especially children, who are exposed to lead from a variety of sources can suffer health problems. For that reason, it’s important to eliminate sources of lead whenever possible.

Companies named in the lawsuit include:

Bay Area Jump
Cutting Edge Creations
Funtastic Factory, known as einflatables.com
Magic Jump
Leisure Activities Co.
Thrillworks
The Inflatable Store
Jump for Fun, Inc.
Jump for Fun National, Inc.

In the past year, Brown has initiated several enforcement actions against manufacturers and retailers for lead in products designed for children.

In July, Brown reached a settlement with artificial turf manufacturers to lower lead levels in turf fields and playgrounds. In June, Brown demanded that Rainbow and 5-7-9 stores remove from shelves jewelry with parts containing as much as 97% lead.

Earlier this year, Target removed teddy bears from its stores after Brown notified the company that lead was found in the product. In November 2009, Brown warned several retailers, including Walmart, Sears and Walgreens, to remove several products designed for children that were found to contain excessive levels of lead.

A copy of today’s complaint is attached.

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Brown Announces Electronic Cigarette Maker's Agreement to Stop Deceptive Marketing and Sales to Minors

August 3, 2010
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced a settlement with Sottera, one of the country’s largest electronic cigarette producers, to prevent the company from targeting minors and claiming that electronic cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking.

"Electronic cigarette companies have targeted minors with fruit-flavored products and misleading claims that their products are safe,' Brown said. 'This settlement will stop Sottera from marketing these dangerous and addictive products to kids.”

Brown and Sottera reached the settlement without litigation based on Sottera’s willingness to adopt measures that address Brown’s concerns about the dangers of its electronic cigarettes. In January this year, Brown filed suit against the nation’s other leading e-cigarette retailer, Smoking Everywhere. That lawsuit is proceeding in Alameda County Superior Court.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices with nicotine cartridges designed to look and feel like conventional cigarettes. Instead of actual smoke, e-cigarettes produce a vapor from the nicotine cartridge that is inhaled by the user. Sottera and other electronic cigarette makers have claimed in advertisements and other marketing materials that the e-cigarettes have no carcinogens, no tar, no second-hand smoke, and are therefore safe.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that electronic cigarettes contain a variety of dangerous chemicals, including nicotine, carcinogens such as nitrosamines and, in at least one case, diethylene glycol, commonly known as antifreeze.

The products are often marketed with advertisements, and flavors like strawberry, chocolate, mint, banana and cookies-and-cream, that are designed to appeal to a youthful target audience.

Today’s settlement prohibits Sottera from marketing to minors and from making false or misleading claims about electronic cigarettes. Specifically, the company has agreed that it will not:

• Sell electronic cigarettes to minors. Its website will be age-restricted, and a customer will need to provide a government ID before making a purchase. Retail products will be behind a counter. Any advertising will note the age restriction.
• Sell flavored electronic cigarette cartridges, such as strawberry, mint or bubblegum, that could appeal to minors.
• Advertise its product as a smoking cessation device unless the FDA approves it as such.
• Sell cartridges that contain vitamins unless the company obtains competent and reliable scientific evidence to support an implied health claim.
• Claim that the product is safer than cigarettes, contains no tobacco, no tar, no carcinogens or no second-hand smoke unless there is competent reliable scientific evidence to support the claims.

Sottera also agreed to adopt and implement quality control standards for its products to preclude the presence of harmful substances. The company will regularly be subject to independent audits.

Sottera will also provide a Proposition 65 warning that its products contain nicotine, a chemical known by the State of California to cause birth defects or reproductive harm. The warning will include additional information about risks associated with nicotine, including that it is addictive and toxic if swallowed. The warning will appear on product packaging, Sottera’s website and at retail sites.

Sottera will also pay $85,000 in penalties and fees.

A copy of the consent judgment is attached.

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Brown Reaches Settlement to Reduce Children's Lead Exposure in Artificial Turf

July 16, 2010
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND – Continuing his fight to reduce children’s exposure to lead, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced a settlement that requires two of the largest makers and installers of artificial turf to eliminate nearly all lead from their products.

“Because schools, public parks and daycare centers use artificial turf, it’s critical that we minimize the amount of lead it contains,” Brown said. “Today’s agreement will get the lead out of artificial turf in playgrounds and ball fields around the state.”

The settlement requires Georgia-based Beaulieu, LLC, the country’s largest supplier of artificial turf to retailers, and Field Turf, USA, the nation’s largest maker and installer of artificial turf fields, to reformulate their products to reduce lead levels to negligible amounts.

The agreement follows a landmark settlement last year with AstroTurf, LLC. Collectively, the three companies control most of the artificial turf market, and their settlements with Brown’s office establish the nation’s first enforceable standards applicable to lead in artificial turf.

Brown brought the case in 2008 against these companies for excessive lead levels after testing by the Center for Environmental Health found high concentrations of lead in their products. Brown’s office confirmed these findings in independent tests.

Today’s settlement requires Beaulieu and FieldTurf to change their products so that they contain less than 50 parts per million lead. Lab results found some artificial turf products with more than 5,000 parts per million, which is more than 10 times state and federal guidelines for content in children’s products. Lead is added to the products to keep colors vibrant.

There is no safe exposure to lead. In lengthy or high exposures, it is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines and kidneys. Since excessive exposure can interfere with development of the nervous system, it is particularly dangerous in children and can cause permanent learning and behavior disorders.

Lead in artificial turf usually enters the human body hand-to-mouth. Children playing on it get lead onto their hands and stick them into their mouths. Hand washing is a good way of reducing exposure.

In addition to reformulating their products, Beaulieu agreed to pay for wipe-testing of products in California daycare facilities, schools and playgrounds that were purchased after October 2004. FieldTurf took action in 2003 to reduce lead in its turf products. This settlement requires it to replace turf fields installed in California before November 2003 at a discount if they test high for lead, and also to reduce the lead content of its new products.

The Los Angeles City Attorney and Solano County District Attorney joined Brown in the case against the three companies. AstroTurf paid $170,000 in penalties, grants and fees, and agreed to improve its products. Beaulieu will pay $285,000 and FieldTurf will pay $212,500.

In the past year, Brown has initiated several enforcement actions against manufacturers and retailers for lead in products designed for children.

In June, Brown demanded that Rainbow and 5-7-9 stores remove from their shelves jewelry with parts containing as much as 97% lead. Earlier this year, Target removed teddy bears from its stores after Brown notified the company that lead was found in the bears. In November 2009, Brown warned several retailers, including Walmart, Sears and Walgreens, to remove from their store shelves several products designed for children found to contain excessive levels of lead.

Copies of the artificial turf settlements are attached.

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PDF icon Beaulieu Consent Judgment1.62 MB

Brown Cracks Down on the Sale of Jewelry Made of Highly Toxic Lead

June 30, 2010
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND — Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued a consumer alert warning of a “serious health hazard” after he demanded that retail stores Rainbow and 5-7-9 remove from their shelves jewelry with parts containing as much as 97% lead, a potentially fatal health hazard, especially for young children.

“This jewelry represents a serious health hazard,” Brown said, “and it is especially dangerous if a child gets a hold of it and puts it in his or her mouth. Some of these bangles are almost solid lead. The jewelry must be banished from retailers’ shelves once and for all.”

Some pieces of the lead-infested jewelry were labeled “KIDS” and one piece was marked “lead free” although its clasp contained more than 80% lead.

There is no safe level of lead exposure. In 2006, a four-year-old Minnesota boy died after he swallowed a pendant from jewelry that was more than 90% lead, and it became stuck in his intestinal tract.

In a letter to the stores’ corporate parent, Rainbow Apparel, Brown said, “Some of the jewelry had components that would be highly toxic, and potentially lethal, if ingested, and all of it contains sufficient lead to contribute to long-term health risks.”

California law bans the sale of jewelry that fails to comply with strict limits on the amount of lead it contains. The law was the result of a 2006 settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Attorney General and two environmental groups, Center of Environmental Health and As You Sow.

In that settlement, Rainbow and other retailers agreed to stop selling jewelry containing more than traces of lead. But four times in a little more than a year, the Attorney General has sent notices of violation to Rainbow for breaking the law and the terms of the settlement by selling jewelry made of lead.

Using a fund created in the 2006 settlement, the Center for Environmental Health monitors the stores. In May, it purchased 16 items containing lead from Rainbow stores in Northern California. Fifteen of the pieces contained more than 50% lead. One was 97% lead, and one labeled “KIDS” and “lead free” had a clasp that contained 81% lead. It’s all inexpensive costume jewelry made in China.

Brown’s letter to Rainbow Apparel follows:

June 24, 2010

RE: NOTICE OF VIOLATION to Rainbow Apparel of America, Inc.

This is a Notice of Violation to Rainbow Apparel of America, Inc., Rainbow Apparel Distribution Center Corp., A.I.J.J Enterprises, Inc., and The New 5-7-9 and Beyond, Inc. (collectively, “Rainbow Parties”). I am writing to you about jewelry purchased at Rainbow and 5-7-9 stores in northern California that exceeds the lead standards established in a consent judgment that applies to the Rainbow Parties, and that violates California Health and Safety Code section 25214.2(b)(3). This letter constitutes a Notice of Violation pursuant to Section 4.2 of the consent judgment. A copy of the consent judgment is available on our web site, at http://ag.ca.gov/prop65/pdfs/amendedConsent.pdf.

Using a grant from the Jewelry Testing Fund created under the consent judgment, the Center for Environmental Health purchased sixteen different pieces of jewelry with excess lead at your stores. Most of the pieces contained plated metal components with more than 80 percent lead, and two of the pieces had more than 95 percent lead. The consent judgment prohibits plated metal components with more than six percent lead. (§ 3.2.2.1.) One of the violations is for a plastic faux leather bracelet with 955 parts per million lead, which is nearly five times above the standard of 200 ppm. (§ 3.2.2.3.) Similarly troubling is the fact that one of the necklaces is labeled “lead free” even though its pendant contains 80 percent lead, and several of the pieces are marked “KIDS” below the bar code.

Enclosed with this letter is a table that lists the reference number for each piece of jewelry, a description of the jewelry, the date and location where the jewelry was purchased, the component with lead, and the lead level. Photographs of each piece of jewelry and the test results also are enclosed. We will provide additional documentation from the lab upon request.

This is the fourth notice of violation for illegal jewelry we have sent the Rainbow Parties in little over a year. Previously we sent notices of violation on May 22, 2009, October 5, 2009, and January 29, 2010. Each time the company has responded that it shares the Attorney General’s concern regarding the sale of jewelry with excess lead, but each time more jewelry is discovered that violates the consent judgment and California’s ban on lead-containing jewelry. We understand that the Rainbow Parties have instructed their vendors to provide compliant jewelry, and after each notice of violation it has addressed the violation with the vendors involved. But clearly that is not enough. Some of the jewelry at issue here has components that would be highly toxic, and potentially lethal, if ingested, and all of it contains sufficient lead to contribute to long-term health risks. Moreover, labeling jewelry as “lead free” when it contains a component with 80 percent lead raises additional concerns about false and misleading advertising. The company must do more to stop selling jewelry that is potentially dangerous and that violates the law.

We therefore request, in addition to responding to this notice under section 4.2.3 of the consent judgment, that you and your client meet with our office to discuss what steps the company will take to ensure that it stops selling jewelry with excess lead. Please contact me to schedule a meeting. Further, in your written response to the notice of violation, we ask that you provide specific data about the amount of the each kind of jewelry offered for sale, sold, and removed from shelves in California stores.

Sincerely,

EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
Attorney General

Photos of some of the pieces of jewelry found to be in violation are attached.

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Brown Wins U.S. Supreme Court Review of California's Ban on the Sale of Violent Video Games to Minors

April 26, 2010
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND – Following nearly five years of court battles, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to grant the request of California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to review a state law prohibiting the sale or rental of violent video games to children.

Brown petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case last year after California’s ban was struck down in federal court. The case is expected to be heard by the high court later this year.

“It is time to allow California’s common-sense law to go into effect and help parents protect their children from violent video games,” Brown said.

California’s petition for a writ of certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2009 on behalf of the state of California. The case stems from a 2005 California law that requires violent video games to be labeled with an “18”, prohibits the sale or rental of these games to minors, and authorizes fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

The Video Software Dealers Association (now part of the Entertainment Merchants Association) filed suit in federal court to block the law before it could go into effect.

On August 6, 2007, the U.S. District Court for Northern California invalidated California’s law. Brown immediately appealed the ruling. On February 20, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court ruling.

Brown’s petition asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up this case and overturn the appellate court decision.

The petition argued that violent material in video games should be subject to the same flexible legal standard the courts have applied to limitations on sexually explicit material sold to children – that it is lawful for the state to determine that some content is harmful to children.

Currently, states may regulate the sale of sexually explicit magazines to children, but their authority to place similar limits on the sale of extremely violent video games is in dispute.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether extremely violent material sold to children can be treated the same as sexually explicit material. Brown’s petition asked the Court to resolve this question and hold that states can place reasonable restrictions on the distribution of extremely violent material to children.

A copy of Brown’s petition, filed last May, is attached.

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Attorney General Brown Forges Agreement To Stop Valero from Selling Tobacco to Minors

April 7, 2010
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced a multi-state agreement with Valero Oil to stop young people from purchasing tobacco products at its convenience stores.

“For years gas station convenience stores have served as an illegal provider for underage smokers. Today, Valero has finally joined the growing list of companies that have made a commitment to prevent illegal access to tobacco,” Attorney General Brown said. “Smoking remains a serious public-health problem in our country, and we need to do everything possible to keep young people from picking up the habit.”

Every day, some 2,000 children begin smoking in this country. One-third of them will die of tobacco-related diseases. Nearly half of underage smokers said they bought their cigarettes at gas station convenience stores.

Attorneys General throughout the country reached this agreement after a nationwide investigation, led by Brown’s office, of tobacco selling practices at convenience stores owned by or affiliated with Valero.

The agreement includes the following provisions:

• Valero retail personnel will receive training about the health risks associated with childhood tobacco use.
• Valero will administer independent compliance checks to monitor sales practices at company-owned convenience stores, to ensure they are not selling tobacco to minors.
• Vending machines, free samples, and self-service displays of tobacco products will be prohibited at company-owned stores.
• In-store tobacco advertisements will be limited to reduce youth demand for tobacco products.
• Valero will require all of its convenience store operators to notify the company if tobacco products are sold to minors in violation of state law.
• The states will continue to impose sanctions against stores that sell tobacco to minors.

There are over 900 Valero stations in California. Although Valero does not directly own or operate the convenience stores at many of those stations, it has agreed to adopt procedures designed to reduce tobacco sales to minors at all of its outlets.

Nationwide, 47% of underage youths who reported buying cigarettes said they got them at gas station convenience stores. Studies have linked retail tobacco marketing with underage smoking. In addition, many convenience stores are located near schools and playgrounds. Studies show that most adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18.

Recently, other multi-state agreements have been inked to curb the sale of tobacco to minors at gas station convenience stores, including Conoco, Phillips 66, 76, Exxon, Mobil, BP, ARCO, Chevron, and Shell, as well as retail and pharmacy outlets operated by Kroger, 7-Eleven, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, and Wal-Mart. Participating grocery stores include Ralphs, Safeway, and Vons.

A copy of the agreement is attached.

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Brown Issues Warning to Major Retailers Caught Selling Children's Products Containing Excessive Lead

November 17, 2009
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Sacramento – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. sent a letter last week to six major retailers, warning them that a number of children’s products on their store shelves were found to contain “illegal levels of lead” and to pull the products from their stores immediately.

“Private testing uncovered a number of products designed for children that contain dangerous and illegal levels of lead,” Brown said. “These products must be removed from store shelves at once to protect our kids from toxic lead exposure.”

Children are particularly susceptible to the risks of lead exposure, which can damage the nervous system and other organs. Children are exposed by ingesting the lead when they put the products in their mouths, handle them and then touch their mouths, or transfer the lead from the products to food.

Any children’s product that contains more than 300 parts per million (ppm) of lead is considered a hazardous substance and therefore illegal to sell in the state. The following products were found to contain excessive levels of lead:

• Kids Poncho sold by Walmart, 677 ppm;
• MSY Faded Glory Rebecca Shoes sold by Walmart, 1331 ppm;
• Reversible Croco Belt sold by Target, 4270 ppm;
• Dora the Explorer Activity Tote sold by TJ Maxx, 2348 ppm;
• Paula Fuschia Open-Toed Shoes sold by Sears, 3957 ppm;
• Disney Fairies Silvermist’s Water Lily Necklace sold by Walgreens, 22000 ppm;
• Barbie Bike Flair Accessory Kit sold by Tuesday Morning, 6196 ppm.

Brown has also requested that the companies provide his office with results from any of their own tests conducted on the products and report how they plan to ensure that other items do not contain toxic quantities of lead.
Brown has reported the findings to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, which could order a recall of the products.

In 2008, Brown’s office reached a settlement with several major toy companies over excessive levels of lead in their products. The settlement allocated $548,000 in funding for consumer safety groups to monitor lead levels in consumer goods and to provide outreach about product recalls. The Center for Environmental Health discovered the current violations with a grant from the Public Health Trust, which administers the settlement fund.

"Based on our testing, it appears there are fewer problem toys on store shelves this year. But parents should know that some children's products still contain high levels of lead,' said Michael Green, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Health. 'After all the attention to lead-tainted toys, manufacturers and retailers still need to do more to keep lead out of our kids' hands.'

A sample copy of the letter:

November 13, 2009

Dear Retailer:

We just received a report about a children’s product purchased in your store in Richmond, California that contains illegal levels of lead. The lead levels reported exceed the limits in the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (“CPSIA”). Furthermore, selling the product without a proper warning likely violates California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as “Proposition 65.” We are writing to ask that you stop selling the product immediately and take other corrective action as needed.

The children’s product is a Cherokee brand reversible “Croco” belt, Style 1139915TG, purchased at your store in Richmond on September 27, 2009. The SKU is 492020800102. Our internal reference number is PHT 082. Please use it in communications with our office about this. We have enclosed photographs of the product.

The item was purchased by an investigator for the Center for Environmental Health, using a grant from a fund administered by the Public Health Institute. The fund was established through a Proposition 65 settlement between our office and several companies over lead in toys. (People v. Mattel et al., Alameda County Super. Ct., Civ. No. RG 07-356892.) After screening the product for lead, the Center for Environmental Health sent a sample to a federally-approved laboratory for further testing. The test results, which are enclosed, indicate 4,270 parts per million (“ppm”) lead in the black artificial leather on the front surface of the belt. This exceeds federal lead limits, which deem a children’s product with more than 300 ppm lead in an accessible component a “banned hazardous substance.” It also appears to violate Proposition 65, which requires a clear and reasonable warning prior to exposing persons to known carcinogens and reproductive toxins, including lead. (Cal. Health & Saf. Code, § 25249.6; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 27, § 27001.)

Lead is a toxic metal that damages the nervous system and other organs. Even at low levels of exposure, lead can impact brain development in children. Based on what appears to be violations of federal and state law, you should stop selling the product immediately. Additionally, please send us any test results you have and any representations from the manufacturer or supplier about the lead content in the product. Please contact us immediately so we can discuss what further actions your company intends to take.

Sincerely,

EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
Attorney General

Brown Creates Nation's First Enforceable Lead Standards for Artificial Turf

August 14, 2009
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

OAKLAND-Fighting to ensure the safety of children’s playgrounds and ball fields, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today signed off on an agreement requiring Georgia-based AstroTurf, LLC to virtually eliminate lead from its artificial grass, creating the country’s first enforceable lead standards for artificial turf products.

“As schools and daycare centers replace grass with artificial turf, extreme care must be taken to minimize lead exposure,” Brown said. “This agreement is the first of its kind and will help make playgrounds and ball fields safe for our children.”

In 2008, Brown filed suit against AstroTurf and two other companies for excessive lead levels after testing by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found high levels in artificial turf products. Brown’s office independently tested AstroTurf and other artificial turf products and confirmed CEH’s findings. AstroTurf immediately took steps to begin reformulating its products.

Today’s consent judgment requires AstroTurf to reformulate its products so that they contain less than 100 parts per million (ppm), and to further reduce lead levels to 50 ppm by June 2010. Lab results found that some AstroTurf products contained more than 5,000 ppm lead. Lead was added to keep the colors vibrant over time. AstroTurf will be prohibited from selling any existing stock that doesn’t meet these standards.

AstroTurf will also provide a grant of $60,000 to the Public Health Trust to fund “wipe testing” of dislodgeable lead on artificial turf fields at daycare centers, schools and public playing fields in California. If the level of dislodgeable lead exceeds the specified replacement level, AstroTurf will provide replacement turf to the daycare center, school or public field at no cost.

AstroTurf will also provide a mailed warning to all customers who purchased its products in California in the past five years. The warning will (1) inform customers that the turf products contain lead; (2) explain “good maintenance practices” that can effectively reduce exposures to lead; and (3) advise the customers of the availability of the program to test and replace old turf products. AstroTurf will also establish a website to provide information to the public on lead content in its products.

The Los Angeles City Attorney and Solano County District Attorney joined Brown in the case against AstroTurf. In addition to its obligation to replace products that exceed acceptable lead levels, the company will pay $170,000 in civil penalties, grants and attorney fees.

"Today's agreement with AstroTurf sets a strong standard for other companies who have not yet agreed to eliminate lead risks to children from turf,' said CEH Executive Director Michael Green. 'Lead is a stunningly toxic chemical that has no place in playing fields for children. We applaud the Attorney General, the LA City Attorney, the Solano County DA and AstroTurf for this accord to protect California's children.'

A copy of the consent judgment is attached.

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42 DEFENDANTS INDICTED IN $4.6 MILLION MEDI-CAL FRAUD CASE

Imposter Nurses Used to Inflate Bills for Care to Disabled Medi-Cal Patients, Many of Them Children with Cerebral Palsy and Other Major Disabilities
July 9, 2009
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Federal and State authorities this morning arrested 20 defendants accused of being part of ring that defrauded Medi-Cal out of nearly $4.6 million by using unlicensed individuals to provide in-home care to scores of disabled patients, many of them children with cerebral palsy or developmental disabilities.

The 20 defendants arrested this morning are among 42 defendants named in a 41-count indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury on June 25. The indictment is part of an investigation called Operation License Integrity, a two-year investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, and the Office of the California Attorney General-Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse. The indictment alleges that the 42 defendants and two others, one of whom has already pleaded guilty to health care fraud charges, conspired to bill Medi-Cal nearly $4.6 million for in-home licensed nursing services that were actually provided by unlicensed individuals.

The organizer of the ring, Priscilla Villabroza, a registered nurse who ran a Santa Fe Springs-based company called Medcare Plus Home Health Providers, pleaded guilty in federal court last year to five counts of health care fraud. According to court documents, Villabroza and others hired individuals to provide care to disabled Medi-Cal patients, many of whom were children and young adults served under a program called Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) Supplemental Services. The indictment alleges that from August 2004 through the end of 2007, Villabroza and others hired unlicensed individuals to provide services to the disabled Medi-Cal patients and billed Medi-Cal as if they were licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). Some of the unlicensed individuals had foreign training, but never passed a nursing exam here. Some of them had no medical training at all.

'Villabroza and her associates concocted a clever rip-off where they hired untrained and unlicensed nurses to provide care to children with serious health conditions,' California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said. 'At a time of budgetary crisis, they cheated California's welfare system and pocketed millions of dollars in unauthorized state reimbursements.'

'We believe that this is the largest single case alleging Medi-Cal fraud ever filed in the state,' said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. 'The nearly four dozen people associated with this fraud ring not only cheated taxpayers, they endangered the lives of young people they promised to protect and care for.'

The unlicensed nurse defendants visited the patients at home and at school and provided nursing services that included administering medications, adjusting ventilators, and feeding through gastronomy tubes. Some parents and patients reported to authorities that the 'nurses' lacked basic skills. In one case, a 'nurse' was unable to replace a tracheotomy tube that had fallen out of a young patient’s neck. In another case, an imposter nurse simply fled a medical situation when she apparently was unable to provide assistance.

Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director In Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, stated: 'This case is particularly troubling in that patients received sub-standard care for serious medical conditions when defendants operated without a license and in their own best interest, not their patients’ interests. The FBI and our partners will continue to provide resources to detect and fight health care fraud that affects the stability of government programs and our economy.'
Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent in Charge for the Los Angeles Region of the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health of Human Services, commented: 'Today's arrests send a strong message to those who would corruptly take advantage of the Medi-Cal system. Greed, at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens and their quality of care, will not be tolerated. The Office of Inspector General will continue to closely work with our Federal, State and local law enforcement partners to prevent, deter and prosecute health care fraud.'
A key assistant to Villabroza – Susan Bendigo, an RN who ran a Medcare Plus subsidiary – was indicted last year. Bendigo is a fugitive who fled the United States during the investigation into her activities.
Villabroza, Bendigo and supervisors involved in the scheme allegedly directed the unlicensed nurse defendants to lie about their licensing and qualifications by telling the parents or guardians of the disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries that they were LVNs, according to the indictment. The unlicensed nurse defendants falsely presented themselves as professionals, concealed their unlicensed status from the parents or guardians of the disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries, and in some cases affirmatively misrepresented themselves as LVNs.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The defendants arrested today are expected to make their initial appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles. The other defendants named in the indictment will be summoned to appear in court for arraignments in the coming weeks.
All of the defendants named in the indictment are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, a felony count that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. All of the defendants are also named in at least one substantive count of health care fraud, a charge that carries a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
Both the California Department of Registered Nursing, which licenses RNs, and the California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Vocational Nursing, which licenses LVNs, maintain websites where consumers can check the licensing status of any purported professional providing services to them. These can be accessed at http://www2.dca.ca.gov.
Anyone who suspects Medi-Cal fraud related to the use of unlicensed nurses or any other type of Medi-Cal or Medicare fraud may report their concerns to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General hotline at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-477 8477) or the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse hotline at 800-722-0432 or webpage, http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/individuals/Pages/StopMedi-CalFraud.aspx.

Brown Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold California's Law Protecting Children from Brutal Video Game Violence

May 20, 2009
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Oakland — Fighting to protect children from video games featuring “killing sprees, torture and sexual assault,” Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold California’s law prohibiting the sale or rental of such brutally violent games to children.

“California’s children are exposed everyday to video games that glamorize killing sprees, torture and sexual assault,” Brown said. “In the face of this brutal and extreme violence, I am petitioning the Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce its reasonable ban on the sale or rental of violent video game sales to children.”

Brown today filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the state of California. If at least four of the nine Supreme Court justices grant the petition, the Supreme Court will take up the case and review the decision to invalidate California’s violent video game law.

The case stems from a 2005 California law that requires violent video games to be labeled with an “18”, prohibits the sale or rental of these games to minors, and authorizes fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

The Video Software Dealers Association (now part of the Entertainment Merchants Association), however, filed suit in federal court to block the law before it could go into effect.

On August 6, 2007, the U.S. District Court for Northern California invalidated California’s law. Brown immediately appealed the ruling. On February 20, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court ruling.

Today’s petition asks the U.S. Supreme Court to take up this case and overturn the appellate court decision.
Brown’s petition contends that the same flexible legal standard the courts have applied to limitations on sexually explicit material sold to children – whether it is rational for the state to determine the material is harmful to children -- should be applied to violent material in video games.

Currently, states may regulate the sale of sexually explicit magazines to children, but they cannot place similar limits on the sale of violent video games.

Multiple studies conducted by Dr. Craig Anderson and other social scientists have found direct correlation between children’s exposure to this brutal violence and increased aggressiveness, antisocial behavior, and desensitization to violence.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether extremely violent material sold to children can be treated the same as sexually explicit material. Brown’s petition asks the Court to resolve this question and hold that states can place reasonable restrictions on the distribution of extremely violent material to children.

Self Regulation Ineffective

To date, video game industry self-regulation has proven ineffective. Children are still able to readily obtain violent video games, despite the voluntary rating system in place.

A 2005 Federal Trade Commission undercover investigation found that 42 percent of 13 to 16-year-old children were able to purchase M-rated games, and only half of cashiers asked the minor’s age.

Violent M-Rated games dominate industry marketing and sales. Last month, at least half of the top ten best selling games for both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were M-rated. These included titles such as:
• Resident Evil 5;
• Call of Duty: World at War;
• Halo 3;
• Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena; and
• Killzone 2.

In “Killzone 2,” the industry admits the extreme level of violence in the games they sell and market to children. Their rating description reads: “Red blood spray emits from enemy soldiers when shot, and weapons such as sniper rifles and shotguns can be used to decapitate them. Post-mortem damage can be inflicted on soldiers’ bodies, resulting in pools of blood on the ground. During one cutscene, a gravely wounded character retrieves a pistol and shoots himself in the head.”

Another recent M-Rated release available, “F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin,” includes the following rating description: “Blood spray often explodes out of wounded enemies, while a slow motion effect allows players to see blood emission in a jelly-like, hanging form. Blood is also smeared on walls, the ground, and in pooled stains near dead bodies, which are sometimes torn apart and beheaded…A sexual assault is vaguely depicted accompanied by images of a writhing body and moaning sounds.” Online, a 39-second trailer for the game is devoted to “blood improvements,” depicting in graphic detail how blood splattering graphics have been updated from a previous version of the game.

A copy of the petition is attached.

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PDF icon videogameviolence.pdf163.94 KB