Thursday, September 10, 2009

CPSIA - A Challenge to Inez Tenenbaum

In today's House hearing featuring CSPC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, the subject of rhinestones (crystal beads) came up. At about the 1:42 point in her testimony, Rep. George Radanovich asked her about the real health risk posed by crystal beads in the context of his concern over the agency's need for the flexibility to use risk-based analysis.

Ms. Tenenbaum contended that "interpretation" of her comments on crystals have "muddied the waters". She defended the banning of rhinestones on the basis that although crystal beads might not violate the previous "substantial injury or illness" standard of the FHSA, some beads have higher concentrations of lead that violate the new CPSIA standard. [For instance, leaded crystal, hence the name.] Rep. Radanovich questioned whether this matters as a practical safety matter since swallowing a bead is exceedingly unlikely to cause injury from lead. Ms. Tenenbaum stated that while leaching of lead from one bead poses no problem, "what if the child swallowed 50 small beads?" She goes on to note that the agency "could not determine" whether 50 beads would raise the blood levels of lead. [She apparently concedes that the only potential risk with beads (from lead) is from ingestion, not handling or airborne lead.]

I was blown away by this statement from the Chairman of the CPSC. She didn't sound concerned with safety; instead, she seemed to think that her job was to defend the law she was given to enforce. Her reasoning appears to be made solely in the context of this goofy law. Common sense is only relevant if the law says so, apparently. This leaves us high and dry. Who will stand up for rational safety policy if not her?

Her analysis of the risks of swallowing stones is also mindboggling. First of all, and most importantly, in her testimony before Congress today, Ms. Tenenbaum defended setting national safety policy based on our society's lowest common denominator, a child who would swallow FIFTY BEADS. Yes, she justifies the devastation of several industries and uncountable companies dependent on these decorative stones on the grounds that if a child swallows 50 beads, he/she might get lead poisoning. Remember, we are talking about eating ROCKS here.

Who might these children be that swallow 50 beads? Completely unsupervised children at a minimum, for one thing. So Ms. Tenenbaum apparently believes that she must enforce the law in a way that protects children against the total abdication of basic care by parents, teachers and caretakers. [If that is really a sound basis for national policy, Big Brother is going to look good by comparison pretty soon.] Second, only children with real problems (unrelated to product safety) would eat 50 beads (rocks). I personally have never eaten a rock or a bead, have you? These are kids that have serious deficits. So we are trashing all these companies because children of this nature MIGHT be in danger. What percentage of society will benefit from this approach, and at the expense of how many other people? Interesting question?

And let's not forget . . . that if you swallow 50 beads (rocks), you have bigger problems ahead of you than lead poisoning. Amazingly, the Chairman of the CPSC is apparently so absorbed in enforcing this defective law that this important common sense point is seemingly lost on her. Check out her Congressional testimony. She was actually arguing with a member of Congress to defend the decision to ban these stones on this basis. If this isn't proof of an upside down world, I don't know what is. How is your confidence in the CPSC now?

BUT what if Ms. Tenenbaum is RIGHT? Holy cow, what if you can get lead poisoning from crystal beads? She must have a basis for her assertions, right?

Well, I have little kids that pass through my house all the time. As we know, rhinestones are not illegal to OWN, just illegal to sell. I happen to own some rhinestones and now I am WORRIED. So I want to know how Ms. Tenenbaum derived her conclusion that 50 rhinestones poses a health risk. Clearly, a sophisticated agency like the CPSC wouldn't make such a direct statement in front of Congress without a firm basis for it. So, my challenge to Ms. Tenenbaum is to PROVE that 50 crystal beads are dangerous (as a source of lead poisoning). She told Rep. Radanovich they might be dangerous - now, let's see the DATA and the MATHEMATICS. I think the U.S. public deserves to see it.

But I don't want to make things too tough on the CPSC. I will help out a bit here. The Fashion Jewelry industry submitted a lot of DATA to the CPSC back in February. I have absolutely nothing else to do with my time and gave up sleeping longggg ago, so I re-read the industry's data with a calculator in hand. Here's what I think is the right answer. Ms. Tenenbaum can correct my math if I am mistaken.

1. The industry says that a popular size of rhinestone is 10PP for children six years old and younger (the target market for CPSC enforcement). It takes 333 of this size stone to equal one gram (remember this number). There are typically 10-15 such stones in jewelry for this age group, so to swallow one gram of stones would require eating 20-30 bracelets. Yummy, munch munch. It takes fewer stones to equal one gram for larger stones, but then again, fewer such stones are used in each piece of jewelry, too. You can find the chart in the industry letter on page 8 and look it over yourself. Eating a gram of stones will take a lot of milk, plus access to piles of jewelry. I think it's an ambitious project for a determined, hungry, totally unsupervised child with access to tools.

2. There's lead in your food, your water and your air. I have previously gone over some of these numbers (actually more than once). The industry notes that the FDA has standards for lead in the food supply and sets a provisional tolerable daily consumption limit of 6 micro-grams of lead for children seven years old and younger. This level of consumption of lead theoretically corresponds to a change of one micro-gram of lead per deciliter of blood. The corresponding tolerable consumption levels for kids older than seven is 15 micro-grams of lead per day in food and water. [The FDA doesn't set standards for the lead we breathe all day long, apparently, so let's just ignore that significant source of daily lead intake.] Studies show that daily dietary intakes of lead for children range as high as 1.17 micro-grams of lead on average, well below the standards established by the FDA. If every food was at the maximum lead content, children's diets might contain as much as 3.5 micro-grams of lead, still okay.

3. The industry submitted studies that showed that, based on ONE GRAM of stones, saline tests leach out 0.15 micro-grams of lead. Acid-extractions tests on ONE GRAM of stones produces leaching of 0.52 micro-grams of lead. To equal the daily intake in an average diet, you would have to swallow (acid extraction test) at least two grams of stones. That's 666 of the 10PP stones, or the equivalent of up to 70 pieces of jewelry. in an absolute worst case, most unforeseen case, a child would have to swallow 54 30PP stones (11 pieces of jewelry), 210 2-mm stones (about 20 pieces of jewelry) or 22 4-mm stones (4-6 pieces of jewelry). This is to produce ONE MICRO-GRAM of lead intake. [If you are worried about mouthing, multiple the stone count by 3.5.] To raise blood levels by one micro-gram per deciliter of blood, the basic measurable change in lead levels, a child would have to ingest SIX TIMES AS MUCH on a daily basis. For those of you who don't have access to a calculator or can't do mental math, this means that to raise blood levels by the minimum amount, you would need to ingest about 130 of the largest reported stones or about 4,000 of the most common ones every day. Based on mouthing only, the number rises to 450+ large stones or 14,000 of the common stones.

That's quite a mouthful. Ms. Tenenbaum, the answer please?


Ben said...

Rick, it really was shocking. But she was speaking from the same playbook as Chairman Rush. In his opening statement he applauded her vote on the rhinestones and reminded us how "any amount of lead constituted too much lead in these beads."

An equally shocking moment was at 3:11-3:13 where she defends the ATV industry spening millions of dollars to redesign their products because a child could injest the lead from their vehicle. Even with the congressman poining out how rediculous this is, she goes out of her way to insist these redesigns are necessary.

bchiasson said...

Well said, Rick. And in regards to the risk of a child eating 50 beads/stones, aren't there much more dangerous items in the common household that could cause much further harm to a child if swallowed? Let's name a few: a whole tube of children's toothpaste (the kind that tastes like bubblegum; Nintendo DS game cartridges (if they'll eat a rock, they'll eat anything); a whole bottle of St. Joesph's baby aspirin (you know, the kind that tastes like orange candy...and don't let the safety cap fool you - most kids can open those bottles in a nano-second if the product tastes like candy); kitty litter from the cat's litter box (it would be especially attractive with the special....well, I won't go any further). Yes, kitty litter is not marketed to kids, however, it is readily accessible in the house. The point is, whether it's stones sewn or glued to a child's jacket versus any piece of matter that is accessible to kids at home or school, an unsupervised child under twelve can ingest or handle things that are far more dangerous to children who have eating disorders as Rick pointed out. The government would have to outlaw EVERYTHING to truly keep a child safe from all the potential hazards that lurk in our very homes. Hence the need for a good dose of rational, common sense.

Paul said...

True loyalty. Ms. Tenenbaum has shown true loyalty here. Not exactly to the American people, but to the people who claim to represent the American people. Not to vague ideology such as truth, just nor safety, but to concrete aspiration of political agenda. Ms. Tenenbaum reveals herself as what she truly is. I respect that, and respect her as what she is.

Esther said...

I was surprised that a former elementary teacher and head of the department of education said that children's books printed pre-1985 are vintage items. She assumes only adults would handle, read, or use books that old. It would be easy to assume she hasn't visited a library recently where any library would have hundreds of books on the shelf printed before 1985.

The problem is bigger than most people think. Even the ALA (which supported CPSIA) has established ethical guidelines for librarians. Some of these guidelines found their way into the Patriot Act. Librarians are not supposed to refuse the right of a patron to check out library materials - regardless of the patron's age. This may not happen in real life all the time, but children checkout adult items all the time. Are we supposed to peruse books to find the printing date (which often isn't there) and then refuse to checkout pre-1985 material?

Anonymous said...

Ms Tenenbaum's statement is also anti-parent. Has there ever been a child who swallowed 50 beads? Parents are mortified to find one in a diaper and most parents, if not all, won't be letting a child swallow 50 beads. Beads don't taste good and a child isn't likely to try and eat more than one or two--it's the candy-like vitamins you have to keep out of reach. (We have one who like to put bottle caps in her mouth. If something like that surfaces, parents become extra vigilant)

She spoke like a true educrat. Can't trust parents to keep their children from swallowing 50 beads! Can't trust parents to properly care for their children. Big government and the new CPSC to the rescue. She speaks as if she is from child services.

We don't need a new health care bill--the CPSC will start offering parenting classes for all the folk who don't know how to parent. And the FDA will make sure you never have any fast food, dessert or sugar cereal again so you don't get fat. The list goes on.

The nanny state is becoming the police state (monitoring online sites and policing garage sales?)

Solution: don't advertise your garage sale but pray everyone who needs your things drives by your house that day and notices the table you set up.

jennifer said...

I shouldn't have been surprised yesterday regarding the hearing but I became paralyzed by what came out of Ms. Tenenbaum's mouth. It is apparenet that she is their puppet reciting a "waxman" script. Babies are in their caregiver's arms constantly coming into contact with bling/buttons/zippers which will not be tested and many 9year olds these days are wearing adult clothing and shoes. If a child were left alone long enough to eat 50 beads then the parents are obviously not doing their job.

I did like that the CPSC will ATTEMPT outreach for the low-income community to help determine if they own re-called cribs (real safety issues) but wonder if they will offer to buy these people new cribs/products? Priorities are different in the real world when you can't afford to buy new everything. And there isn't much left in the resale shops because they don't want the liability that comes with this law. Funding a program to help these people actually replace products seems like a program worth funding but that doesn't seem like the plan.
The plan seems to be to spend money on investigating things that industry has already proven to be safe to just make sure they are really safe.

And then the gov't wonders why people are angry at town hall meetings. Unbelievable.

John said...

"And we have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas."

Barrack Obama

Paul said...

Barrack? Our president? With 1”r” or 2? Supposedly, our president is the most powerful person in the WORLD. I just don’t see a way that he isn’t aware of the kind of monkey business that’s going on in his own backyard. Ok, he didn’t start the fire, but my question is this. What happen to “The Buck Stops Here” signs on President Henry Truman’s desk. It’s become evident that appointing Ms. Tenenbaum is not the answer that I could be too proud of.

Anonymous said...

As if this wasn't enough to send me screaming down the street, today I got a fedex overnight package from the CPSC investigator down the street with 2 pieces of paper about how to sign up for recall notices and a PEN!

How fabulous! I'm so glad that they got more money to keep our kids safe and can overnight people a pen!