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?