AG sues 13 manufacturers to force warning signs for keys
SACRAMENTO – California’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday against 13 key manufacturers, saying that lead in many keys poses a risk of infertility and birth defects.
The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, accuses the companies of violating Proposition 65, a 1986 ballot measure that requires businesses to warn consumers about products that could cause cancer or birth defects.
Lead can reduce the fertility of adults and cause serious neurological problems in children and fetuses.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer said that tests conducted for his office on more than three dozen keys found lead exposure levels that averaged 19 times the amount that triggers Proposition 65’s notice requirements.
”The levels of toxic exposure from keys is actually pretty extraordinary,” Lockyer said at a news conference.
The lead can be transferred into the body through the skin or from hand to mouth contact, Lockyer said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified fines and an order requiring the companies to use signs or labels giving consumers ”clear and reasonable warnings” about the lead risk.
Lockyer said the companies could be fined up to $2,500 per violation going back four years. But he indicated that a settlement was likely.
”The lawsuit is being filed to join the issue and get the matter resolved,” he said. ”I do not think it will be a huge legal issue.”
Bob Wyatt, a San Francisco attorney representing five of the manufacturers, said the companies hadn’t seen the results of the tests.
”Until we have seen the information it’s very difficult to have an informed view as to the merits of their claim,” he said.
The suit was filed against Ilco Unican Corp., Master Lock Co., Schlage Lock Co., Kwikset Corp., Best Lock Corp., Arrow Lock Manufacturing Co. Weiser Lock Corp., Dexter Co., Jet Hardware Manufacturing Co., Chicago Lock Co., Olympus Lock, Medeco Security Locks and American Lock Co.
Lockyer said they represent the bulk of the industry.
Deputy Attorney General Susan Durbin said she didn’t know of a case in which lead from keys had been identified as the cause of birth defects or infertility, but she said lead in keys still posed a significant health risk.
”It’s not one of the highest exposures to lead. But because keys are so pervasive, everyone is exposed to lead,” she said.
Howard Yorgan, who has been making copies of keys for 43 years at a booth near the state Capitol, said he hasn’t seen any evidence that keys pose a health risk.
”I don’t know where he’s getting his keys,” he said of Lockyer.
Durbin said the attorney general’s lawsuit was triggered by a similar suit filed by William Verick of the Klamath Environmental Law Center. Verick did not immediately return a reporter’s telephone call.