What a day for news on our favorite subject!
a. A sad, almost pathetic, illustration of the ill-effects of the CPSIA is found here: "Police Switch To Handing Out Books To Children" (WISC-TV, Channel3000.com). Be SURE to check out the embedded video, too. In this article, this Wisconsin television station shares the news that police cannot give out teddy bears anymore to children who witness traumatic events like a robbery or the arrest of a parent. For years, the police had been trying to soften those blows with comforting teddy bears. But no more! The CPSIA straightened them out: "The new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act . . . has law enforcement officers rethinking handing out stuffed animals because of the chemicals they might contain. . . . Mueller said that he used to hand out Teddy bears or other stuffed toys to children. Now, Middleton police are using the books to make sure they're in compliance with new federal regulations."
The local police are scared of the consequences of breaking this law: "'One of the reasons for that is we get older toys that come in and they're perfectly fine to give out, but we don't know if they were made under the new requirements,' [Middleton police Sgt. Don Mueller ] said. . . . The new federal law is retroactive so the departments like Middleton are no longer using any stuffed animals as they can be held liable."
How charming! The CPSIA is actually taking teddy bears away from traumatized children, nice. At least we know the kids will be so, so safe now.
Btw, as you all know, our company makes educational products, including readers, so I am hardly opposed to giving books to kids. I would observe, however, that there are a couple obvious issues here. First of all, it's an odd message to a kid that just saw a parent being arrested to receive a book. Hey, kid, go read this book and try not to think about where we're taking your folks. Not much solace in that, certainly compared to a teddy bear. A second objection is, here's a shocker, not everyone speaks English. Giving a book in English to a traumatized child who does not speak English or has poor reading skills could even be seen as a kind of insult.
b. For a view from the scary people behind the law, check out: "Toxic Toy Law Criticized For 'Lack Of Enforcement" (WBZ Boston). In this alarming article full of inaccuracies, fear of the unknown is given a great deal of unquestioning credibility. "'They don't really know if lead or phthalates are in their products, so we don't know either,' said [Environmental activist Laura Spark]. Her daughters have a playroom full of toys that she can only hope are free from lead and other toxic chemicals." In other words, Ms. Sparks doubts everything about everyone, and feels free to spread this doubt among the populace. The grounds for this latest libel of the toy industry: HealthyStuff.org's recent spot check of pet products, automobiles and women's handbags.
HealthyStuff.org (formerly known as HealthyToys.org) has been the subject of criticism in the past for its shoddy field work. Among other things, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled "Guerrilla Toy Testers Take Aim at Lead" on December 16, 2008 documenting their maligning of a toy company. Now the presence of "dangerous chemicals" in pet products is enough to convince a TV station that the entire children's products industry can't be trusted?
To compound the sense of fear, the article also completely misstates the Target fine, asserting that it was a "knowing" lead-in-paint violation, which is patently untrue. See my recent blogpost on Target.
c. For a glimpse of the future of litigation under the CPSIA, check out "Mattel Settles Suit Over Lead in China-Made Toys " (WSJ). Mattel has already paid big settlements in California and Arizona, as well as a serious CPSC fine, and paid many millions more for the expense of its mega recall. It's not enough, apparently: "Co-plaintiff lead counsel Whatley Drake & Kallas said in a statement the settlement provides 'tens of millions of dollars in monetary relief as well as significant injunctive relief.'" That'll teach ya!
While my heart does not bleed for Mattel ("The world's largest toy maker previously recorded charges to reserve for the litigation. The company, based in El Segundo, Calif., said final settlement won't be material to its operating results. . . . Mattel shares were up 2.9% to $19.41 in recent trading amid a broad market rally."), this case is at the heart of one of the worst risks embedded in the CPSIA - the possible onslaught of litigation opened up by recalls under the new law.
This problem will continue to bite the children's product industry HARD. My previous blogpost highlighted the snarling lawyers poised at the gate, eyeing us eagerly. Oh joy.