Gumball machines. Kids flock to them for the trinkets inside, hoping mom will break down and allow that 25 cent moment of joy. But, as CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, for Kara Burkhart, that decision was just the beginning of an endless nightmare.
"To this day I still have tears," says Burkhart. "It's my baby and he had to go through horrendous and horrifying pain all because of something so small."
Her son, Colton, was 4 years old when he swallowed a pendant. Doctors removed it, but not before Colton had absorbed 12 times the normal level of lead in his bloodstream, enough to nearly kill him. Even now his future is uncertain.
"The more we learn about it the scarier it gets," says Burkhart. "He could have behavioral problems, he could've had neurological damage.
The Burkharts have sued LM Becker, the company that imported the pendant. The government issued a recall, pulling over a million of the toys out of the marketplace. Lead paint, the source of most lead poisoning, has long been banned on children's toys. But there's no limit to the amount of lead that can be used in kids jewelry, as long as it is properly coated.
CBS News purchased jewelry from several vending machines including some imported by LM Becker and had them analyzed at an independent lab. The results were disturbing. If mouthed for an hour, six out 10 pieces would have released enough to give a child lead poisoning as much as seven times over.
"It certainly is something we have to take into consideration because children pretty much mouth everything," says Hal Stratton, chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The test results, which were shown to Stratton, were high enough to prompt his agency to conduct its own testing, notify importers and consider another recall.
"When we do see it, it's serious and we want to do something about it," says Stratton.
LM Becker refused CBS News' request for an interview but responded to the Burkhart lawsuit in court documents by blaming Colton's parents, saying the "... injuries and damages, if any, were the result of the fault of others in failing to supervise ..." him.
"They don't care what my 5-year-old has gone through," says Burkhart. "They are out there to make money and that's all."
It's not over for Burkhart; She wants somebody to be responsible for putting a poisonous product in the hands of children.
So what are parents risking when they put 25 cents into one of those machines for a little moment of joy?
Burkart believes, "They are risking their life - their child's life?"
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.