Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CPSIA - Eat My Dust!

WARNING: Sarcasm is included in this blogpost. I have been advised that certain Members of Congress with very sensitive egos don't like to see themselves referred to in print except in the most positive terms. If you are such a Member of Congress or work for such a Member of Congress and are a little self-conscious about your role in writing or voting for the ridiculous CPSIA, you should probably not take a chance and read . . . any . .. further. While you might gain some perspective on the CPSIA by reading on, it's probably not worth the risk of exposing yourself to opposing views.

In a wonderful comment post, WeeWilly recounted an ATV outing in Arizona with his two older children and his relief at not exposing his 11-year-old daughter to the dangers of lead intake from the ATV adventure. What a thoughtful guy! As he points out (somewhat sarcastically but certainly with a good sense of humor), lead intake from his ATV ride is both unlikely and the least of his concerns when riding ATVs. Although WeeWilly doesn't dwell on it too much, by far the greatest lead risk from his outing came from the dust he and his kids breathed. I think it's probably time for our nurturing Mothers, the Members of Congress responsible for the CPSIA, to outlaw air and dirt! Just to protect us, of course. . . .

As my last blogpost makes clear, lead intake is a common daily occurrence (HORRORS!) as lead is in everything. More on that below. The CPSIA foments a fear of everything, so no doubt you are now breathing heavily, clutching at furniture, feeling lightheaded. Calm down! You are not the only one fainting over the improbable intake of lead in your daily life. In another surreal incident, the Madison (WI) Children's Museum curtailed its annual American Girl-themed fundraiser because of CPSIA concerns. Hmmm. I am fairly certain that the same mathematics about lead intake apply to the withheld toys. Perhaps it's time to break out the calculator and give this some thought.

As a point of reference, I would direct you to the report of the American Academy of Pediatricians given in testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on September 20, 2007. This report was presented as the testimony of Dana Best, M.D., but in fact was written by Cindy Pelligrini (at least, according to her). Cindy told me in a conversation on May 16, 2008 that she is a scientist . . . a political scientist, that is. In any event, this document is the touchstone for the lead fear mongers so you should probably read it. It has lots of interesting information in it.

As a starting point, here are some points of reference:

a. As noted in the CPSC Staff reply to the ATV Exemption request, expected daily lead intake from a child's use of an ATV is 0.015 - 0.05 mcg.

b. As noted in the same document (and confirmed in the AAP testimony), the lead limits imposed by the FDA on candy is 0.1 ppm (0.1 mcg).

c. According to the AAP testimony, safe water standards are set at 15 parts per billion. This limit is equivalent to 0.015 mcg/liter (approximately four cups), or 0.057 mcg/gallon (U.S.).

d. According to the AAP testimony, the lead limits in dairy product solids is 0.5 ppm (0.5 mcg per gram, five times higher than in candy).

e. According to the AAP testimony, lead limits in "clean air" is 1.5 mcg/cubic meter (better tell the kids to stop breathing!).

f. And, my absolute favorite, according to the AAP testimony, the "upper range" lead levels in "uncontaminated soil" is 40 ppm, which the AAP testimony considers to be a "trace amount". This "trace amount" means that if you consume between 0.000375 - 0.00125 grams of soil, you are likely to exceed the daily intake of lead from ATVs. One penny weighs 2.5 grams. [Please note that lead in dirt is soluble. The vast majority of lead-in-substrate is NOT soluble.]

[Ed. Note: While we're talking coins, did you know that according to the CPSC, over 21,000 kids made trips to the Emergency Room after swallowing coins in 1997? Lead is not an ingredient in American coins but I cannot find information on its levels as a trace contaminant. Does this statistic raise any questions of proportionality perhaps???]

As previously noted, one 7 gram piece of Coffee Nips candy contains 14-47 times the lead that would result from one day's interaction with an ATV. An entire box of 16 Nips would exceed the lead intake from years of riding an ATV. If you favor cheese, a similar 7 gram serving would equate to 70-235 days of ATV use, and the cheese equivalent of 16 Nips (112 grams) might have you riding ATVs for more than a decade without a bathroom break to catch up on your lead. And heaven knows what is in those crackers you would eat!

It gets better. Breathing in a cubic meter of air will equal 3-10 days' worth of ATV riding. How much time will that take? Well, one cubic meter is 1000 cubic liters. According to a 1994 study, an American child consumes about 7 liters of air per minute in a sitting position. Since we Americans are sedentary, I took this minimum level as the standard (the most conservative approach - I assume the kids never move, all day long). A typical American child, sitting down for 24 hours a day (remember the childhood obesity issue we all used to fret about . . . until we heard about lead?), will breathe 7 liters a minute, or 10.08 cubic meters of air. Ten cubic meters of air will contain 15.1 mcg of lead or 302x-1008x the lead intake from one day's use of an ATV. My guess is that this underestimates the daily air intake of a child by a factor of 2.5x. Taking these minimum assumptions as the basis for my answer, I say it would take 24*60/302 or four minutes and 46 seconds of breathing in a sitting position for a child to exceed the daily lead intake from a day's use of an ATV. If the kids get up and run around, it would take less time. It's probably best to stop breathing right now! [Or rescind the CPSIA.]

And then there's dirt. Dirt, according to the AAP, has 400x the lead content of candy and 80x the lead content of cheese. The AAP notes that young children might put their hands in their mouths up to 20 times per hour. [Ed. Note: I realize that the AAP and Cindy Pelligrini would NEVER mislead us about anything BUT one of the cited articles says that the contacts are 9.5 per hour for a study of 20 3-6 year olds and 10 2-5 year olds, NOT 20 per hour as claimed in the testimony. The other article cited by the AAP was a study of 37 children (average age 39 months) for two hours, resulting in a median touches hand-in-mouth of 7 touches per hour. In any event, neither of these studies seem to me to be sufficiently large to be a basis of national policy setting. Just one man's opinion. . . .]

The AAP goes on to intone: "If the dirt on their hands or the dust on the floor contains lead, every one of those activities delivers a dose of lead." Ouch, you got me! Licking my wounds, I wonder: how does the lead intake from dirt compare to the lead intake from now illegal ATVs (and the products made by the rest of us)?

The lead intake from daily use of an ATV is 0.015-0.05 mcg. The concentration of lead in dirt at 40 ppm is 40 mcg lead/gram of dirt. For an equivalent intake of 0.05 mcg of lead (the high end of ATV lead intake), you would need to consumer 0.00125 grams of dirt. According to this article entitled "The Hazards and Benefits of Eating Dirt", a child of under 3 typically consumes 500 milligrams of dirt every day or 0.5 grams (one-fifth of a penny). This amount of dirt happens to contain 20 mcg of lead, or 400x the daily lead intake from use of ATVs (high end). Yes, that's right - a child under three takes in more lead from his/her daily intake of DIRT than a child would take in from riding an ATV for more than a year without a break.

Does this put the lead issue in perspective for you? While the AAP warns us "There is no 'safe' level of lead exposure", they likewise make no effort to put it all in perspective. Their argument asks us to suspend common sense, because the AAP must know best, but the fact remains that environmental sources of lead are a much, MUCH greater problem for society than the products outlawed by the CPSIA. By divorcing their logical observation that lead is not good for you from an analysis of the lead dosage that we all take in from breathing, eating and interacting with our environment, the AAP and their merry band of fear mongers renders their message into scientific gibberish. Unfortunately, they give the misleading impression that lead is an out-of-control health crisis in this country. From our daily life, those of us with some common sense know that's not true, and the data confirms that it's not true.

Fundamentally, the CPSIA is fatally flawed because it eliminates all semblance of safety risk assessment from the CPSC tool kit. Were the CPSIA appropriately written in the context of risk assessment, none of the overreaching provisions of the law would have seen the light of day. The AAP testimony recounts the one recent documented lead death, the notorious incident in Minnesota where a four year old child died from ingesting a lead bangle from a bracelet. Notably, for all the Congressional hysteria over lead-in-paint, CPSC recall records indicate only ONE claimed injury since January 1, 2007. Frankly, all of this makes sense to those of us residing in the real world. Even the well-accepted risks posed by lead jewelry and lead-in-paint are very unlikely to cause injury in reality. Lead-in-substrate, as the ATV example shows, is FAR less likely to cause injury from lead. This is why the CPSC had only one recall even linked to lead-in-substrate since January 1, 2007 (a curious case, too) - lead-in-substrate does not typically cause injury. Seen in the context of unavoidable daily intake of lead from consumption of food and water and interaction with our environment, the risks posed by the products subject to the misconceived CPSIA are barely noticeable.

No one argues that lead does not have the ability to harm children. No one argues that lead should be consumed by children or that use of lead shouldn't be controlled in some fashion. However, the CPSIA goes way, way further and does incredible damage to commerce and to our quality of life in the process. The Children's Product Industry argues sensibly (recall that we are all parents, we live in communities and most importantly, we are in the "kid business") that spending billions and billions of dollars to eliminate lead from harmless products, terminate thousands of jobs, go out of business or drop tens of thousands of useful and well-loved products all to serve the master of someone's paranoid fantasy of widespread lead poisoning - is shameful, harmful and un-American. It's time to wake up and do something about this.

Are you listening, Mr. Waxman, Mr. Rush, Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Pryor and Ms. Pelosi? And you, Mr. Obama? Will someone act responsibly and fix this incredible, embarrassing error of a law?


jennifer said...

Great post. I certainly hope they will listen eventually. Most of us involved have been forever changed by this law. If we did trust this administration, we no longer do. If we did trust the media to report both sides, we no longer do. And if we did trust public interest groups (ie, consumer reports), we absolutely no longer do. I can't believe this attitude in Washington is the CHANGE we were told to believe in.

Anonymous said...

Do a search for the terms ingest zinc coin and you will find lots of info on what swallowing a coin can do.

Hope said...

Far more kids swallow coins (and live to tell the story in most cases) than die from lead poisoning.

I don't see them out-lawing coins. And as my teen son so astutely commented months ago--"If CPSIA is to order tested all things that might even remotely be attractive to kids 12 and under, ALL money issued by the Gov't must be tested . . . because it doesn't take long before a little kid figures out that money is pretty interesting and something to want!"

cmmjaime said...

The entire CPSIA travesty is tragic! Thanks, Rick, for pointing out so well, again, the craziness behind all of this...And it continues to amaze me that Congress, on both sides of the aisle, could pass such an awful piece of legislation -- and then refuse to fix it!