Jesse McKinley, The New York Times, August 11, 2010

San Francisco

It may be one of the most beloved activities of hyperactive children and the parents who love them: bouncing in a bounce house. But, according to Attorney General Jerry Brown of California, it may also be toxic.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by Mr. Brown’s office claims that some of the inflatable bounce houses that help entertain — and exhaust — the young guests at children’s parties have unsafe levels of lead, sometimes dozens of times the federal limit.

“I was surprised,” said Mr. Brown, who is running for governor in a state with 2.7 million children under age 5. “But as we test more and more of these products, we find dangers.”

The suit was prompted by a an investigation by the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, Calif., an advocacy group that tested dozens of bounce houses, concentrating on the vinyl that gives them their bounce.

Lead levels in the vinyl, the tests found, varied from 5,000 parts per million to 29,000, far above the federal limit of 90 to 300 parts per million.

Robert Field, senior vice president of Cutting Edge Creations Inc., a defendant in the suit, called the investigation a “witch hunt” that could seriously damage the bounce-house industry.

“California already has many financial problems,” Mr. Field said. “Do they really wish to potentially place thousands of small-business owners that operate children’s party centers out of business?”

Charles Margulis, a spokesman for the center, said he was not saying that children should stop using the houses, but that they should wipe their hands and faces afterward.

No injuries were reported in connection with the recall.

Dr. Megan Schwarzman, a family physician and an associate director at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, said that she had not seen the test results, but that there was no safe level of lead exposure for children. “Everyone is exposed from so many different sources,” Dr. Schwarzman said.

Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and, at very high levels, seizures, coma and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For his part, Mr. Brown — who does not have children — said his office wanted manufacturers to stop using lead-containing vinyl, and for rental companies and party places to post warnings about lead in bounce houses.

“I certainly don’t want to be a kill joy here,” he said. “I just think parents should be cognizant.”

Testing published by AP in January showed some jewelry was as much as 91 percent cadmium by weight, and that high levels could leach out of items when run through a test that mimics what would happen if a child swallows a cadmium-laced piece.

On Tuesday, CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson reiterated the agency’s warning to Asian manufacturers “not to substitute cadmium in place for lead.”

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