Friday, November 9, 2007
Michael Bernard Mukasey (IPA: /mju.ˈkeɪ.zi/) (born July 28, 1941) is an American lawyer who currently serves as the 81st Attorney General of the United States, filling the vacancy left by Alberto Gonzales and confirmed to the position on November 8, 2007. Mukasey served for 18 years as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, six of those years as Chief Judge. He has received several awards, most notably the Learned Hand Medal of the Federal Bar Council. On November 8, 2007, the Senate voted to approve Mukasey's nomination by a vote of 53-40.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Mukasey
Michael B. Mukasey (born 1941) is an American lawyer who, for 18 years, was a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, six of them serving as Chief Judge. According to press sources, President George W. Bush will nominate Mukasey to serve as the 81st Attorney General of the United States, succeeding Alberto Gonzales.http://www.answers.com/topic/michael-b-mukasey?cat=biz-fin
Mukasey attended Columbia, recieving his B.A. in 1963, and Yale Law School, receiving his LL.B. in 1967. He practiced law for 20 years in New York City, serving for four years as an Assistant United States Attorney in the federal prosecutor's office in which he worked with Rudolph Giuliani. Later, he was as a member of the New York law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.
In 1987, Mukasey was nominated as a federal judge in Manhattan by President Ronald Reagan. He served in that position for 19 years and was Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York from 2000 to July 2006. During his tenure on the bench, Mukasey presided over the criminal prosecution of Omar Abdel Rahman and El Sayyid Nosair, whom he sentenced to life in prison for a plot to blow up the United Nations and other Manhattan landmarks uncovered during an investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. During that case, Mukasey spoke out against leaks by law enforcement officials regarding the facts of the case allegedly aimed at prejudicing potential jurors against the defendants. Mukasey also heard the trial of Jose Padilla, ruling that the U.S. citizen and alleged terrorist could be held as an enemy combatant, but was entitled to see his lawyers. Mukasey also was the judge in the litigation between developer Larry Silverstein and several insurance companies arising from the destruction of the World Trade Center. In a 2003 suit, he issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Motion Picture Association of America from enforcing its ban against the distribution of screener copies of films during awards season, ruling that the ban was likely an unlawful restraint of trade unfair to independent filmmakers.
In June 2003, Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer submitted Mukasey's name, along with four other Republicans or Republican appointees, as a suggestion for Bush to consider for nomination to the Supreme Court. On the March 18, 2007, episode of Meet the Press, Schumer again suggested Mukasey as a potential Attorney General nominee who, "by [his] reputation and character, shows that [he] put rule of law first."
In June 2006, Mukasey announced that he would retire as a judge and return to private practice at the end of the summer. On August 1, 2006, he was succeeded as Chief Judge of the Southern District by Judge Kimba Wood. Mukasey's retirement took effect on September 9, 2006. On September 12, 2006, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler announced that Mukasey had rejoined the firm as a partner. 
On August 22, 2007, the Wall Street Journal published Mukasey's op-ed, prompted by the resolution of the Padilla prosecution, in which he argued that "current institutions and statutes are not well suited to even the limited task of supplementing . . . a military effort to combat Islamic terrorism." Mukasey instead advocated for Congress, which "has the constitutional authority to establish additional inferior courts," to "turn [its] considerable talents to deliberating how to fix a strained and mismatched legal system."
Since retiring from the bench, Mukasey has made campaign contributions to Giuliani for president and Joe Lieberman for Senate. Mukasey is also listed on the Giuliani campaign's Justice Advisory Committee.
Nomination as Attorney General
On September 16, 2007, various publications reported that Mukasey accepted Bush's offer to replace Alberto Gonzales as the Attorney General.
Fact Sheet: Michael Mukasey: A Strong Attorney General
10 Things You Didn't Know About Michael Mukasey
1. Born in 1941, Michael Mukasey grew up in the Bronx.
2. Mukasey graduated from Columbia University in 1963 and Yale Law School in 1967.
3While in college, Mukasey tried out a different career: He worked one summer as a reporter for United Press International.
4. Early in his career, Mukasey became friends with another young attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Mukasey once played a practical joke on Giuliani, sending him a letter describing him as "completely unqualified" for a job at his firm.
5. Mukasey was an assistant U.S. attorney and head of the official corruption unit when Giuliani was U.S. attorney in New York. To prepare for trials, Giuliani practiced his cross-examinations on Mukasey, who would portray the witness.
6. Mukasey has moved between public and private practice throughout his career. After more than a decade with the New York firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, he returned to federal service in 1987 when Ronald Reagan nominated him for a judgeship in the Southern District of New
7. When Giuliani was elected mayor of New York in 1993 and 1997, Judge Mukasey presided at his friend's swearing-in. In fact, one of the ceremonies was held at Mukasey's own Manhattan apartment.
8. During his tenure in the Southern District, Mukasey presided over a number of important terrorism-related cases, including the 1996 conviction of Omar Abdel Rahman and the initial 2003 proceedings against Jose Padilla. These high-profile cases brought increased security. At one point, Mukasey received round-the-clock security from U.S. marshals.
9. Mukasey retired from the federal bench in September 2006 to return to his partnership at Patterson Belknap. He and his son, attorney Marc Mukasey, also serve on the Giuliani campaign's Justice Advisory Committee, which advises the candidate on legal issues.
10. Although a conservative, Mukasey has supporters on the Democratic side. In 2003, Sen. Chuck Schumer recommended Mukasey as a candidate for a Supreme Court appointment. In 2005, the liberal group Alliance for Justice suggested that he would have bipartisan support for such a position.
Bush Introduces Attorney General Nominee Michael Mukasey
President Bush Announces Judge Michael Mukasey as Nominee for Attorney General
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I'm pleased to announce my nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to be the 81st Attorney General of the United States. Judge, thank you for agreeing to serve.
The Attorney General serves as our nation's chief law enforcement officer. The Attorney General has an especially vital role to play in a time of war, when we face the challenges -- and we face the challenge of protecting our people on a daily basis from deadly enemies, while at the same time protecting our freedom.
Judge Mukasey brings impressive credentials to this task. In 1987, he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York. It's one of the country's busiest and most respected trial courts. He sat on that court for more than 18 years, and he earned the reputation as a tough, but fair judge. For six of those years he was the chief judge, and he was a sound manager and a strong leader. Throughout his time on the bench, Judge Mukasey was widely admired for his brilliance and his integrity.
Mike has experience in the Justice Department and private practice, as well as having served on the bench. He served four years as an Assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan, where he tried many cases and he developed expertise in the workings of the criminal justice system. He's also worked as a partner in a law firm, and he holds degrees from Columbia University and Yale Law School.
Some of Judge Mukasey's most important legal experience is in the area of national security. Judge Mukasey presided over the trial of the terrorist known as "the Blind Sheikh," and his co-defendants in the conspiracy to destroy prominent New York City landmarks, including bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.
Before the 9/11 attacks, this was one of the most important terrorism cases in our nation's history, and the verdict in that case was affirmed on appeal. In affirming the convictions, the appeals court signaled out the judge for praise. I found it very interesting what they said. Here's what they wrote: "The Honorable Michael B. Mukasey presided with extraordinary skill and patience, assuring fairness to the prosecution and to each defendant, and helpfulness to the jury. His was an outstanding achievement in the face of challenges far beyond those normally endured by a trial judge."
When the World Trade Center was attacked again, Judge Mukasey quickly reopened his court, even though it was just blocks from Ground Zero. He recognized the importance of maintaining a functioning justice system in the midst of a national emergency. He and other judges in his district worked day and night to ensure that applications for warrants were processed, investigations could proceed, and the rule of law was upheld.
Judge Mukasey is clear-eyed about the threat our nation faces. As a judge and a private lawyer, he's written on matters of constitutional law and national security. He knows what it takes to fight this war effectively, and he knows how to do it in a manner that is consistent with our laws and our Constitution. And when confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General, he will work to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence officers have the tools they need to protect the United States and our citizens.
When he takes his place at the Department of Justice, he will succeed another fine judge, Alberto Gonzales. From his days as a Supreme Court Justice in Texas, to his years as White House Counsel and as Attorney General of the United States, this honorable and decent man has served with distinction. I've known Al and his family for more than a decade. He's a dear friend and a trusted advisor. I will miss him and I wish Al and Becky all the best.
With Mike Mukasey, the Justice Department will be in the hands of a great lawyer and an accomplished public servant. Mike has shown good judgment in the courtroom, he's shown good judgment outside the courtroom. After all, he married a teacher. And we welcome Susan here, as well as son Marc and daughter Jessica. Thank you all for coming. He's also brought his sister, Rhoda, and brother-in-law Norm. I want to thank you all for supporting Mike as he takes on this important responsibility for our country.
It's a pivotal time for our nation, and it's vital that the position of Attorney General be filled quickly. I urge the Senate to confirm Judge Mukasey promptly. Until the Judge is confirmed, Assistant Attorney General Paul [sic] Keisler will serve as acting Attorney General. Accepting this assignment requires -- Peter -- I said -- Peter Keisler. Accepting this assignment requires Peter to delay the departure date he announced earlier this month, and I appreciate his willingness to do so. Peter is the acting Attorney General. Paul Clement, who agreed to take on this role, will remain focused on his duties as Solicitor General, so he can prepare for the Supreme Court term that begins just two weeks from today.
Judge, I'm grateful for answering our nation's call to serve. I look forward to welcoming you as the next Attorney General of the United States.
JUDGE MUKASEY: Thank you, Mr. President. I am, of course, deeply honored to be selected as the nominee for Attorney General of the United States. Mr. President, I am also grateful to you for giving me the chance to return to the department of Justice where I served early in my career.
The department faces challenges vastly different from those it faced when I was an assistant U.S. attorney 35 years ago. But the principles that guide the department remain the same -- to pursue justice by enforcing the law with unswerving fidelity to the Constitution. I have always had great respect for the men and women who follow those principles day in and day out in all the constituent branches of the department. My fondest hope and prayer at this time is that, if confirmed, I can give them the support and the leadership they deserve.
This morning I received a congratulatory call from the man I've been nominated to succeed, Alberto Gonzales, and I appreciate his support and encouragement.
I said a moment ago that the challenges the Department faces are vastly different from those we confronted 35 years ago. Less than a week ago, we marked a solemn anniversary that reminds us, if we need reminding, of how different those challenges are. Thirty-five years ago, our foreign adversaries saw widespread devastation as a deterrent; today, our fanatical enemies see it as a divine fulfillment.
But the task of helping to protect our security, which the Justice Department shares with the rest of our government, is not the only task before us. The Justice Department must also protect the safety of our children, the commerce that assures our prosperity, and the rights and liberties that define us as a nation.
I look forward to meeting with members of Congress in the days ahead, and if confirmed, to working with Congress to meet our nation's challenges. Thank you very much.
US Senate Confirms Michael Mukasey as Attorney General
The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Bush's nomination of retired federal judge Michael Mukasey to the post of attorney general. The Senate approved Mukasey by a vote of 53-40 during a late-night session Thursday. The vote came despite concern among some Democrats that the retired federal judge would not say whether the interrogation technique known as waterboarding amounts to torture. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
President Bush immediately welcomed Senate confirmation of Michael Mukasey.
In a written statement, Mr. Bush called Mukasey a man of strong character and integrity, with exceptional legal judgment. He said Mukasey will be an outstanding attorney general.
Mukasey succeeds Alberto Gonzales, who resigned amid criticism of his handling of a controversial wiretapping program and the firing of federal prosecutors.
Mukasey's confirmation came after an emotional debate over his refusal during Senate hearings to call the interrogation technique that simulates drowning 'torture'. Key Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, argued that was enough reason to oppose the nomination.
"In light of his responses in confirmation hearings, I cannot stand by him today," he said.
Thirty-nine Democrats voted against Mukasey. But six others joined Republicans in supporting him.
Senator Joe Leiberman, an independent from Connecticut, was also among those who supported Mukasey.
"I can't think of a nominee for Attorney General who has been more independent of the president nominating him than Michael Mukasey in a long, long time," he said.
Waterboarding has been condemned as torture by human rights groups. The U.S. military has banned the practice, but human rights groups say the Central Intelligence Agency has used it on terrorism suspects in recent years.
Michael Mukasey confirmed as attorney general
After weeks of controversy over Michael Mukasey's views on waterboarding, the Senate late Thursday approved the former judge's nomination for attorney general by a 53-40 vote.
President Bush nominated Mukasey to replace longtime ally Alberto Gonzales, who resigned in September.
The nomination had been considered at risk after a number of Democratic senators opposed Mukasey because of questions that arose from his views on the terror interrogation technique known as waterboarding and the president's power to order electronic surveillance.
Mukasey, a former federal judge in New York, told senators he considers waterboarding "repugnant," but he could not categorically say whether the technique amounts to torture, which U.S. and international law bans.
Waterboarding is a technique that involves restraining a suspect and pouring water on him to produce the sensation of drowning.
Mukasey's confirmation was all but assured last week when two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Chuck Schumer of New York -- said they would vote in favor of Mukasey despite the controversy.
"The Department of Justice, once the crown jewel among government institutions, is adrift and rudderless," Schumer said Tuesday -- the same day the committee voted 11-8 to send Mukasey's nomination to the Senate floor.
It desperately needs a strong and independent leader at the helm to set it back on course and I believe Judge Mukasey is that person."
Schumer said that in a meeting Friday the nominee said that Congress would be within its rights to pass a law that bans waterboarding across all government agencies and that the president "would have absolutely no legal authority to ignore" it.
Schumer said he believed Mukasey would be more likely to find waterboarding illegal than an interim attorney general.
"Indeed, his written answers to our notices have demonstrated more openness to ending the practices we abhor than either of this president's previous attorney general nominees have."
But Mukasey's pledge to enforce such a law rang hollow with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's chairman.
"Some have sought to find comfort in Judge Mukasey's personal assurance that he would enforce a future, new law against waterboarding if this Congress were to pass one," Leahy said Tuesday.
"Unsaid, of course, is the fact that any such prohibition would have to be enacted over the veto of this president."
However, the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he believed Mukasey would enforce a law banning waterboarding.
"He could have said a lot of things which would have given me more assurances," Specter said earlier. "But he is intelligent; he's really learned in the law. He's strong, ethical, honest beyond any question. He's not an intimate of the president."
A majority of Americans consider waterboarding a form of torture, but some of those say it's OK for the U.S. government to use the technique, according to a poll released Tuesday.
Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no. Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. telephone poll of 1,024 American adults was carried out over the weekend and had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Mukasey could shape future terrorism trials
The former federal judge, nominated to be the next attorney general, has expressed support for a separate national security court to prosecute detainees.
Michael B. Mukasey is best known as the federal judge from New York who skillfully presided over one of the nation's first terrorism trials, the prosecution and conviction of Omar Abdel Rahman, the "blind sheik," after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Civil libertarians often point to that case to buttress their belief that terrorism suspects -- including the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba -- should be tried in federal court.
But as attorney general, Mukasey is not likely to agree. Instead, he has cited his own experience to argue that the nation needs a new approach to handle individuals charged as terrorists or enemy combatants.
If he is confirmed, he may have an opportunity to break a logjam in Washington between two opposing views: Bush administration lawyers insist that "enemy combatants" have no rights and can be held indefinitely in military prisons, and civil libertarians argue that these accused terrorists and foreign fighters deserve all the rights of the U.S. legal system, including full hearings in federal court.
Mukasey, 66, has proposed something in between. Writing in the Wall Street Journal last month, he tentatively endorsed the idea of "a separate national security court staffed by independent, life-tenured judges." He urged Congress to focus on how to "fix a strained and mismatched legal system."
David B. Rivkin Jr., a lawyer in national security cases who has generally supported the Bush administration, says Mukasey's background "gives him tremendous credibility on these issues. He has seen how difficult it is to apply the criminal justice rules to cases like this."
For example, in Abdel Rahman's conspiracy trial, prosecutors were compelled by federal criminal rules to reveal the "other unindicted co-conspirators," Mukasey wrote. They included Osama bin Laden who, within days, received word in Sudan that U.S. authorities had linked him to that attack.
Conservatives are not alone in arguing for a different way of trying accused terrorists. Neal Katyal, who won an important Supreme Court ruling for the Guantanamo detainees, also applauds Mukasey's approach.
"I think Judge Mukasey is right to say we should think about a national security court for a small handful of cases that are not capable of being handled in the current criminal justice system," said Katyal, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. "His embrace of a national security court does not, in my mind, disqualify him for his position as attorney general. Rather, it is one of many reasons I am so supportive of his nomination."
Despite his own liberal credentials, Katyal said that Congress should consider a "system of preventive detention that is overseen by a national security court."
Currently, the United States has no accepted legal means for holding and questioning terrorist suspects captured within this country. Under the law, persons taken into custody have a right to go before a judge within 48 hours and, if accused of a crime, to have a lawyer. Typically, the lawyer will strongly advise the suspect not to talk to authorities.
The Bush administration sought to evade this rule in the case of Jose Padilla, a Bronx-born Muslim convert who was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2002. Based on overseas intelligence, FBI agents suspected that he was plotting to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States.
Padilla initially was taken to New York and held as a "material witness" in the investigation of Al Qaeda. The judge overseeing the case was Mukasey.
The law did not allow prosecutors to hold Padilla indefinitely, and Mukasey ruled that he was entitled to see a lawyer.
At that, the Bush administration sent Padilla to a military brig in South Carolina. That set off a long legal struggle, including a trip to the Supreme Court. Last month Padilla was convicted in a federal court in Miami on lesser terrorism-related charges.
Mukasey defended the administration's bold move in 2002 to bypass his court.
"The government's quandary was real," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "The evidence that brought Padilla to the government's attention may have been compelling, but inadmissible."
This fall, the Supreme Court will again hear an appeal from Guantanamo detainees who are seeking the right to have their cases heard in federal court. Mukasey has already made his opposition clear.
"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, is said to have told his American captors that he wanted a lawyer and would see them in court," he wrote last month "If the Supreme Court rules . . . that foreigners in U.S. custody enjoy the protection of our Constitution regardless of their place or the circumstances of their apprehension, this bold joke could become a reality."
Michael Ratner on Mukasey and torture
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Toy Beads Convert Into Date Rape Drug
Four million toy beads have been recalled after it was found they contain a powerful date rape drug.
The beads have been pulled from shelves in both North America and Australia, but over Wednesday night, they were still available at the Wal-Mart and K-Mart Web sites.
Scientists found the beads contain a chemical that converts into the dangerous drug, GHB when eaten.
The toys are labeled Aqua Dots in the United States and Bindeez Beads in Australia. It was named Australia's Toy of the Year and Wal-Mart put it on its Top 12 Toys Of Christmas.
In the United States, two children fell into comas after ingesting the beads. Both have since recovered.
The toy beads are imported from a manufacturer in China. They are distributed by Spin Master, of Toronto, Canada.
News 13 was able to purchase the recalled beads at a local Wal-Mart Thursday morning.
Toys linked to a date-rape drug recalled
China-made beads for kids metabolize into GHB when ingested
Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful “date rape” drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.
With only seven weeks until Christmas, the recall is yet another blow to the toy industry — already bruised by a slew of recalls last summer.
In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. It is called Bindeez in Australia, where it was named toy of the year at an industry function earlier this year.
Moose Enterprises said Bindeez and Aqua Dots are made at the same factory, which is located in Shenzhen in China’s southern Guangdong province. Last week the Chinese government announced an export ban on more than 700 toy factories in the region because of shoddy products.
The company said that the product is distributed in 40 countries but that it was up to the individual countries and distributors to determine whether the product would be pulled.
The toy beads are sold in general merchandise stores and over the Internet for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs and fused when sprayed with water.
Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the compound — made from common and easily available ingredients — can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.
Naren Gunja from Australia’s Poisons Information Center said the drug’s effect on children was “quite serious ... and potentially life-threatening.”
The recall was announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday several hours after published reports about the recall in Australia.
The two U.S. children who swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said Wednesday. A 20-month-old has recovered completely while the other child, whose age was not known, has been released from a hospital after five days and is recovering, he said.
“To prevent any other child from being hurt, we are calling upon parents to take the product away immediately,” Wolfson said.
In Australia, the toys were ordered off store shelves on Tuesday when officials learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old toddler also was being treated.
The news jolted the toy industry because Aqua Dots has been one of the few bright stars of the toy selling season, which, along with overall retailing, has gotten off to a sluggish start. The item, which had been heavily advertised, had appeared on many toy experts’ list of must-have holiday toys, and toy sellers are now in the midst of canceling advertising and scrambling to figure out how to replace it.
Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy consultant, noted that the incidents could have been isolated, and Spin Master may be erring on the side of caution.
“This is something that they could not have foreseen. This is an extremely hot toy. ... It’s a little scary,” Byrne said.
In a statement, Toys “R” Us Inc., said that it issued on Tuesday a “stop sale” on the entire Spin Master Aqua Dots product line in its North American stores and on its Web site after it learned of the news. “We understand that Spin Master and U.S. regulatory authorities are investigating this product and we have asked Spin Master to fully explain what it believes happened,” said the toy seller in a statement.
Meanwhile, a separate recall was announced for 405,000 children’s products made in China, most of them toy cars, because of dangerous levels of lead.
The recall includes about 380,000 Pull-Back Action Toy Cars imported by Dollar General Merchandising Inc. of Goodlettsville, Tenn., and 7,500 Dragster and Funny Car toys imported by International Sourcing Ltd. of Springfield, Mo.
Click for related content
405,000 toys on latest lead recall list
Four of the recalled products were imported by Schylling Associates Inc. of Rowley, Mass., including the items Duck Family Collectable Wind-Up Toy, Dizzy Ducks Music Box, “Robot 2000” collectable tin robot and Winnie-the-Pooh Spinning Top. The company recalled another 66,000 spinning tops Aug. 22.
Representatives from Schylling Associates Inc. were not immediately available for comment.
Wednesday’s recalls include about 7,200 “Big Red” Wagons imported by Northern Tool & Equipment Co. of Burnsville, Minn. Totaling about 405,700, the recalled children’s products all had excessive levels of lead in their surface paint.
Although no illnesses connected to the toy car recall have been reported, lead is toxic if ingested by young children. Children’s products found to have more than 0.06 percent lead accessible to users are subject to a recall.
A spate of recalls of Chinese-manufactured toys this year was highlighted by U.S.-based Mattel Inc.’s recall of more than 21 million toys worldwide last summer.
Toy beads contain 'date rape' drug
Aqua Dots recalled because chemical in beads turns to drug when ingested
Millions of Chinese-made toy beads for children have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contained a chemical that converts into a powerful "date rape" drug when ingested.
Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.
In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, which are distributed by Spin Master Toys based in Toronto. They are called Bindeez in Australia, where they were named toy of the year at an industry function earlier this year.
The beads are sold in general merchandise stores for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs and fuse together when sprayed with water.
Scientists say the beads contain a chemical that the human body metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate.
When eaten, the compound -- made from common and easily available ingredients -- can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.
The recall was announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday several hours after it was announced in Australia.
Spin Master said it is requesting that all stores remove the product from shelves in North America.
In a statement, Spin Master said that "out of an abundance of caution," it stopped shipping the item and was working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Health Canada.
The news startled industry followers such as Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy consultant, because Aqua Dots has been one of the few bright stars of the toy-selling season, which, along with overall retailing, has gotten off to a sluggish start.
"This is an extremely hot toy. . . . It's a little scary," Byrne said.
The New South Wales state minister for fair trading, Linda Burney, ordered the toys pulled from store shelves Tuesday when it was learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were admitted to a Sydney hospital after swallowing large quantities of the beads.
A 19-month-old toddler from Queensland also was receiving medical help after eating the beads, the state's chief health officer, Jeannette Young, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Naren Gunja from Australia's Poisons Information Center said the drug's effect on children was "quite serious . . . and potentially life-threatening."
A statement from the New South Wales Fair Trading Department said the product was supposed to use a nontoxic compound used in glue, but it contained the harmful chemical instead.
Sleuthing for a Danger in Toy Beads
The story started with a 2-year-old boy who was taken to a suburban Sydney hospital on Oct. 5 in a shallow coma and suffering from seizurelike spasms. It ended with the latest recall of a Chinese-made toy, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered the recall of 4.2 million Aqua Dots in the United States on Wednesday evening.
Connecting the two events were four weeks of medical sleuthing by Dr. Kevin Carpenter, a biochemical geneticist in Sydney. Dr. Carpenter discovered that the boy in Sydney had eaten Bindeez beads, celebrated as Australia’s “Toy of the Year.”
Once ingested, the beads released a chemical related to GHB, the banned date rape drug. The beads are marketed in North America as Aqua Dots.
Dr. Carpenter’s story demonstrates how recalls come about, in a time when they are becoming depressingly routine.
Doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, outside Sydney, first believed that the 2-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, had an inherited metabolic disorder. But when Dr. Carpenter checked urine samples the next day for the chemical markers of the disorder, he found GHB, which can render victims unconscious and even cause death through respiratory failure.
“We suspected at that time the child had been surreptitiously given” the drug by a family member or friend of the family, he said by phone from Sydney on Wednesday.
A follow-up test two days later showed that the GHB had disappeared from the boy’s body, which confirmed that the chemical had been ingested and was not occurring because of a genetic disorder. It was then that Dr. Carpenter learned that the boy had vomited beads before and after going into a shallow coma.
Dr. Carpenter obtained more of the boy’s beads and tested them in a mass spectrometer, a device that helps identify chemical compounds. “I saw a large peak of a substance I didn’t recognize,” he said.
The “peak” was an obscure industrial chemical used to prevent water-soluble glues from becoming sticky before they are needed. But when ingested, the chemical quickly breaks down to become GHB. The United States tightly restricts the chemical’s sale and places GHB in the same category as heroin.
Dr. Carpenter bought a small quantity of the industrial chemical, a purchase that required considerable paperwork to assure the vendor that it would not be used illegally.
He contacted the toy’s worldwide distributor, Moose Enterprise of Australia, who referred him to the Hong Kong office of the manufacturer. The manufacturer provided a list of the beads’ ingredients. The list did not include the dangerous industrial chemical. Dr. Carpenter said the manufacturer was reluctant to provide details of how the beads were made.
“The manufacturer was very keen that Moose not know what was in them,” apparently to prevent Moose from ordering identical beads from another manufacturer, Dr. Carpenter said.
He alerted the Ministry of Fair Trading of New South Wales, the state where Sydney is located. The hospital’s poison control center then sent out a warning about the beads last Friday to poison centers around Australia.
The next day, a mother living near Dr. Carpenter’s hospital found her 10-year-old daughter motionless. Then, the girl began vomiting beads. At the hospital’s poison control center, doctors recognized the symptoms immediately.
“Both the children presented with a coma and seizurelike movements,” said Dr. Naren Gunja, the deputy director of the center.
On Tuesday, Moose, the toy’s distributor, ordered a recall in Australia of Bindeez beads.
On Wednesday, Dr. Carpenter said safety regulators should look beyond Bindeez to conduct laboratory tests on all similar craft toys. These toys, sold under brand names including Aqua Dots and Aqua Beads, contain packets of brightly colored beads that children arrange into mosaics, then sprinkle with water; the beads then stick together in as little as 10 minutes to form durable artworks.
The same day, Peter Mahon, a Moose spokesman, said the company had ordered safety tests on Bindeez beads sold in more than 40 other countries, but that it was awaiting results before deciding whether to expand its recall beyond Australia.
But Amazon’s British Web site, Amazon.co.uk, abruptly stopped listing Bindeez products for sale. Toys LiFung (Asia) of Hong Kong said that it had removed all Bindeez items from the Toys “R” Us stores that it operates in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
Later on Wednesday, the Toronto-based company that markets Aqua Dots, Spin Master, asked retailers across North America to remove the product from their shelves, “out of an abundance of caution.”
But late on Wednesday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered a recall, saying that two children had fallen seriously ill in the last several days after eating Aqua Dots.
In Britain, Aqua Beads is marketed by Flair Leisure Products Plc of Britain. Peter Brown, the chief executive of Flair, said that upon learning of Moose’s recall on Tuesday, the company immediately sent Aqua Beads samples to an independent laboratory for tests. The tests did not show any sign of the precursor to GHB, Mr. Brown said. Flair buys Aqua Beads from a Chinese supplier, but not the same manufacturer or factory as Moose, he added.
Flair has nonetheless begun a broader review of any possible toxic risks posed by Aqua Beads. “We are 99.9 percent sure the product is safe, but we are conducting more tests,” Mr. Brown said in a telephone interview.
Hong Kong customs officials said that they had sent Bindeez toys to a government laboratory for testing after learning that the Australian distributor had used its Hong Kong office to buy the toy from its maker and ship it.
Moose said that it had reviewed the ingredients of the beads and found that some batches did not match the list of ingredients promised by the supplier.
“The substitution was not at any time approved by Moose, nor was Moose made aware of any substitution by the supplier,” the company said in a statement, adding that it would add a safe but foul-tasting ingredient to future beads to discourage children from eating them.
Moose declined to identify the supplier. Dr. Carpenter said that during his investigation, Moose had put him in touch by e-mail with the manufacturer, whose e-mail addresses ended in @jssy.com.hk.
JSSY Ltd. has the Web address with that name, and the company’s Web site describes it as a toy manufacturer with offices in Hong Kong and Taiwan and three factories in mainland China. Lavigne Law, a customer service representative at the JSSY office in Hong Kong, said she was not authorized to discuss Bindeez.
During two phone calls on Wednesday, Ms. Law said that she would ask a colleague to return the call and take questions. But another company representative did not return the calls.