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Manufacturing Concern
January 10, 2010 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Consumer products and especially those marketed for children continue to be the subject of massive recalls even after what was called a '100-year flood' level of health and safety problems in 2007-2008. The list of recent recall issues include: burn and fire hazards in game console battery chargers, gas grill hoses, dehumidifiers and notebook computers; lead in toy military figures, certain cloth books and trucks; as well as various safety risks in baby play yards, cribs and car seats.  Even the decades-old issue of strangulation in drape cords continues to be a problem.

Help for making childrens' products safer in the US was signed into law in August of 2008; the bill called CPSIA received broad bipartisan support and is now administered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Manufacturing groups balked at its requirements.  Industry criticisms of the law include the lack of defined testing methods, which products require certificates of conformance, and concerns re: tracking and logistics.

With little progress by the CPSC on these concerns manufacturers have started numerous blogs, rallied their supporters to petition Congressmen, and have attempted to ally with celebrities who have product lines.

How can shoppers keep themselves informed about recalls? Consumer Reports has some tips.  Blog coverage of recalls is spotty, but at the CPSC you can search for recalls and subscribe to recalls and press releases via email.  Reporting unsafe products can also be done electronically.

Canadians have similar resources for finding recalls and reporting unsafe products.  The new Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, a long-awaited update to consumer safety laws, was passed with amendments by the Senate in December but has now been effectively 'killed' by Prime Minister Harper's proroguing (the bill will need to start over at square one when Parliament reconvenes.)
posted by Hardcore Poser (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The latest scandal is about toy jewelry from China. Because lead is forbidden, and because zinc is too expensive, they're making them out of cadmium.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:42 PM on January 10, 2010


Townhall? They're weighing in on cadmium? I can't possibly imagine how that makes sense to them, unless they think that Obama and the Jews are trying to steal our bodily fluids or something.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:57 PM on January 10, 2010


AS, it's an AP news release. It just happens to be hosted on the TownHall site.

Is this link better? It's the same article.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:05 PM on January 10, 2010


I think kids just aren't as tough as they used to be. That, or they're losing their sense to avoid danger.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:06 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah. That makes more sense. I couldn't figure out whether their hatred of foreigners would overcome their hatred of consumer protection and market regulations. I'd love to see the thought process though.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:08 PM on January 10, 2010


'100-year flood' ? Can we prepare for the 10-year fire?
posted by kuatto at 10:46 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think kids just aren't as tough as they used to be.

I second that. All of us here who are 40 or older grew up with small choking hazard parts, lead paint, plastic bags that could strangle us... and here we are, eh?

OK, granted, we are all here and the ones that choked and suffocated etc. are not. But kids will find stupid ways to harm themselves no matter what their toys are like.

We can't nerf the world.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:02 PM on January 10, 2010


Yeah! Toughen up, kids. Lead and cadmium build character.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:22 PM on January 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Meatbomb: not to mention jungle gyms and other playground toys that no one uses any longer.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:37 PM on January 10, 2010


...and ya can't find a decent set a swings anymore. Hmph.
posted by Hicksu at 1:32 AM on January 11, 2010


Echoing previous comments, I wonder how much is this is a genuine increase in dangerous toys versus a dangerous increase in over-worried parenting.
posted by dearsina at 1:35 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, a big part of this is lawyers who make money suing toy companies too. But that said, lead paint really is bad for you.
posted by delmoi at 1:40 AM on January 11, 2010


Yeah, but look how you guys turned out. That's reason enough to tighten up the laws. And cadmium? Jesus christ, those fuckers.
posted by ryanrs at 4:13 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never understand the "I didn't wear a seatbelt as a kid and I turned out fine" argument. You realize that the kids that didn't wear seatbelts and didn't turn out fine aren't here to tell us that, right?

But kids will find stupid ways to harm themselves no matter what their toys are like. We can't nerf the world.

Ah never mind, it's the 100% LOGICALLY SOUND "if we can't make it perfect, we shouldn't try to make it better" argument.
posted by DU at 4:29 AM on January 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Law of diminishing returns, DU. I am not saying "let's feed our kids cadmium".
posted by Meatbomb at 4:38 AM on January 11, 2010


I am not saying "let's feed our kids cadmium".

Since most of the comments that mention a specific danger are talking about cadmium, it sounds a lot like you are saying that. But I'll bite: Which of the safety notices that is the topic of this thread are you saying is going too far?
posted by DU at 5:34 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The toy, it goes in your mouth.
posted by saysthis at 5:35 AM on January 11, 2010


Ah never mind, it's the 100% LOGICALLY SOUND "if we can't make it perfect, we shouldn't try to make it better" argument.
It's not so much that as "At what point do our efforts to take "pretty good" to "near perfect" start causing issues in other areas?"
posted by Karmakaze at 5:55 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's what I'm asking. Which of the mentioned safety problems is causing issues in other areas that outweigh child safety?
posted by DU at 6:25 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can have more expensive, safe toys made in a country that actually enforces regulations, or you can save money and live better at Walmart. You can't have it both ways.
posted by usonian at 6:30 AM on January 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


You can have more expensive, safe toys made in a country that actually enforces regulations, or you can save money and live better at Walmart. You can't have it both ways.

See I think that's a cop out on the companies who make the toys and China. Why should I sacrifice safety over price? Doesn't everyone--poor or rich--deserve safe toys (products)? And good luck finding something not made in China or other country that has lead, etc. issues. I sure can't find it.
posted by stormpooper at 6:38 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


or you can save money and live better at Walmart.

Typo, I assume.
posted by DU at 6:41 AM on January 11, 2010


Typo, I assume.
Nah, irony - "Save Money. Live Better. Walmart." is their current slogan.
posted by usonian at 6:57 AM on January 11, 2010


Lots of things outweigh child safety, if you don't have children in your home or work. Which is why I:

- cut off the plastic push-down safety sleeve on caps of hazardous chemicals
- invert the medicine bottle caps to the non-'safe' side
- leave lots of alcoholic beverage containers unlocked
- don't put gates at top and bottom of stairways
- etc.

And that's why I'll be irked if I can't buy dangerous miniblinds that pose no risk to anyone in my home. Label the boxes with warnings and disclaimers if you need to, but don't force products off the market.

That said, heavy metals in toys and melamine in milk - wtf indeed.
posted by yesster at 7:13 AM on January 11, 2010


usonian has it. "Made in China" is getting extremely hard to avoid though, even when looking to the expensive trusted brand.
posted by dabitch at 7:28 AM on January 11, 2010


I feel obliged to admit that I am as guilty as anyone of buying on the cheap from time to time, and not trying to speak from a high horse... I just don't understand why there's so much surprise over stuff like this happening when a dirt cheap price has become the most important consideration of a transaction. History has pretty well demonstrated that in the absence of regulation, opportunistic scumbags will do awful things.
posted by usonian at 7:46 AM on January 11, 2010


You can have more expensive, safe toys made in a country that actually enforces regulations, or you can save money and live better at Walmart. You can't have it both ways.

Actually, CPSIA, if it ever goes into effect, will more or less push for the inverse. The big toy makers (Mattel, etc) will be able to do in-house testing, which will cost them very little per toy. Small toy makers, homecrafters, and a lot of Euro brands will simply go under or stop selling in the US because they won't be able to afford the insane prices ($300 - $400 per toy) that the limited number of testing houses can command.

The most inane part of the CPSC legislation is that it demands that, instead of putting the onus for testing on the manufacturers of the original components, it demands that parts be tested on finished toys, and that each part (like a nut or bolt or zipper) be tested on each different toy its used on.

So: Lets say you're small Etsy seller and you buy a bolt of fabric, a package of fiberfill, a package of ten zippers, and some green ribbon. Out of these items you make one elephant, one doll, and one set of soft blocks. Common sense says that the bolt of fabric, the package of fiberfill, one zipper and some of the ribbon could all be tested once (and that the onus for testing falls to the maker of those items, not the crafter who buys them) and be done with it. What the law actually demands is that the elephant, the doll, and each of the blocks all be tested, despite the fact that they're all made from the same materials because they are different toys. And, the testing is destructive testing, so you'd better have made two of each to even begin to sell anything at all.

CPSIA really does very little to keep kids safe and does a whole lot to ensure that only the biggest toy retailers are able to continue to make and sell toys in the US.

CPSC commissioner Anne Northrup's WSJ Editorial on the need for congress to amend this law so that it makes sense. Efforts are currently underway to persuade congress to amend the law, learn more here.
posted by anastasiav at 7:48 AM on January 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah! Toughen up, kids. Lead and cadmium build character.

There's quality control for toxins and there are choking hazards from drape cords. The former is scary and should be easy enough to prevent by manufacturers (is there really any step in the product development that has to include lead?) and the latter includes products that you should always be careful when handling (dangling cords around kids, or hoses that contain gas). Always toxic vs dangerous if mishandled.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2010


So, what IS the proper death-rate-to-profit ratio?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2010


I think kids just aren't as tough as they used to be. That, or they're losing their sense to avoid danger.

Yeah I agree, Jeff dead at 48 of cancer (worked plating metal), forget the kids name who died from the faulty hang glider, Gabriel lost a thumb from a saw with the defective fence.

C'mon kids toughen up corporate America needs you.
posted by pianomover at 9:44 AM on January 11, 2010


@stormpooper: See I think ["buy American"] a cop out on the companies who make the toys and China. Why should I sacrifice safety over price? Doesn't everyone--poor or rich--deserve safe toys (products)? And good luck finding something not made in China or other country that has lead, etc. issues. I sure can't find it.

I agree that it's a cop-out. I'm generally hopeful about the benefits of globalization. However, the situation with China specifically is messed up. I'm going to guess that Chinese citizens aren't getting the same news we are regarding this cadmium thing. I certainly wasn't able to find anything on the People's Daily about it today, except for a really old article about the EU regulatory response to a problem with "a single shipment of toys". Outsourcing our manufacturing to a country that doesn't have functional local oversight is just asking for trouble. Until China has a free press, we shouldn't have free trade with them.
posted by robla at 9:46 AM on January 11, 2010


I hope somebody finally cracked down on Mainway Toys' Bag o' Glass.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 PM on January 11, 2010


I tell you, as a parent, it would be nice if we had regulations such that "Made in the USA" actually meant something. Because all it means is that the most recent assembly step took place in the United States; it says nothing about where the component parts came from. EU regulations require labeling to say either "Made in the EU" or "Made in the EU from imported components," which is much more useful information with very little corporate burden.

CPSIA is great on its face, but messed up in the details, as was mentioned above. I'd like to see some reasonable exemption from or relaxation of the rules for very small businesses, perhaps that if all the components have been tested to be free of contaminants then the final product doesn't have to be.

Drapery cords, though. . . this seems to me to be a great place for an after-market safety product, rather than altering the product itself. And I know a parent whose child died by blind cord strangulation, even. There's no reason why some guy living alone should need to have child-safe drapes.

(As an aside, does anyone remember how China dealt with the melamine scandal? They found a guy who was in charge of manufacturing safety for the region that had the highest rate of contamination, and they shot him. Problem solved!)
posted by KathrynT at 12:23 PM on January 11, 2010


Irwin Mainway: Yeah, well, look - you know, the average kid, he picks up, you know, broken glass anywhere, you know? The beach, the street, garbage cans, parking lots, all over the place in any big city. We're just packaging what the kids want! I mean, it's a creative toy, you know? If you hold this up, you know, you see colors, every color of the rainbow! I mean, it teaches him about light refraction, you know? Prisms, and that stuff! You know what I mean?

Consumer Reporter: So, you don't feel that this product is dangerous?

Irwin Mainway: No! Look, we put a label on every bag that says, "Kid! Be careful - broken glass!"
posted by filthy light thief at 12:24 PM on January 11, 2010


Laws like the CPSIA actually work to further the market share of big corporations at the expense of the little guy. As anastasiav points out, companies like Mattel have lobbied the rulesmakers to allow their toy production facilities to be certified as toy inspection facilities as well.

Mattel's lobbyists actually helped craft the legislation because it would create a competitive advantage for them over other toy makers - the "$300-400 per toy line" price becomes much cheaper for them if they can tack it on to existing business practices, and even gives them the ability to open a secondary market testing toys for other companies. In essence, this law keeps the price of toys for Mattel close to their current manufacturing costs but adds a hefty margin on toys sold by Etsy dealers, home crafters, etc.

Now, if the lead toy problem from 2007-08 was because soulless corporations only care about their bottom line, and thus don't care about whether or not they kill children if they can reduce the cost by a few cents, I can't personally see where it makes sense to further entrench these corporations and make it even more difficult for new toy manufacturers that don't plan on killing children with low quality parts to open a successful business.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 2:03 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just think it's a damn shame that kids won't be able to enjoy delicious Cadmium Eggs at Easter any more.
posted by Skot at 2:19 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


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