SACRAMENTO, Calif. &

State officials and a Los Angeles company were alerted last year that lunch boxes the firm imported from China contained high amounts of lead, an environmental group said Friday.




The state Department of Public Health warned consumers on Thursday not to use about 56,000 lunch boxes that were imported by T-A Creations and distributed through a state program to encourage healthy eating and exercise.




The Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health said it found high amounts of lead in a lunch box from T-A Creations that was given out at a summer camp sponsored by a Hillsborough school.




The center said it notified T-A Creations in April 2006 and filed a lawsuit that August that sought to force the company to stop importing lead-tainted products. The lawsuit is still pending, and T-A Creations has refused to discuss a settlement, center officials said.




"It is outrageous for a company that has long known about this problem to be so cavalier about exposing children to lead," said Michael Green, the center's executive director, in a statement. "We hope that the state will take swift action."




An employee at T-A Creations, Stan Cipriano, said all information about the lawsuit had been forwarded to the company's attorney, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.




Lead can cause brain damage when ingested by young children. Horton urged parents whose children may have used the boxes to consult with a physician to see whether they should be tested.




The state's public health department got its first indication in July that the lunch boxes contained lead, said Mark Horton, its director.




That came from a test conducted by the Sacramento County Public Health Department that found lead in one of the boxes that the state was distributing through community organizations. A logo on the boxes says: "eat fruits and vegetables and be active."




Additional testing by the state revealed high amounts of lead in three of the green boxes, and the department issued its warning on Thursday, urging parents to return the boxes to the places where they got them or to a disposal site for toxic waste.




A spokeswoman for the department, Suanne Buggy, said she would check to see if the lunch box tested by the Center for Environmental Health was distributed through a state program and if the department was aware last year of the center's lawsuit.




In Massachusetts on Friday, a cancer charity called The Friends of Mel Foundation is recalling about 200,000 bracelets it has sold as a fundraiser because they contain high levels of lead.




The foundation tested the bead-and-metal bracelets after getting an e-mail that a nine-month-old boy apparently ingested lead from a bracelet.




Nancy Sterling, a spokeswoman for the foundation, told The Boston Globe the e-mail described the boy as "doing well."




Another foundation spokeswoman, Jackie Herskovitz, told the newspaper the metal rings were from a Chinese supplier which had assured the group they did not contain lead.




But independent lab tests showed the rings, but not the bead, do contain high levels of lead. The foundation says it has notified federal and state officials and will replace the jewelry.