Monday, October 12, 2009

CPSIA - Scary Brass!

In anticipation of the Learning Curve decision about "dangerous" brass bushings, I thought I would provide some information about the uses of brass in society and its current restrictions.

According to Wikipedia, brass has been widely used since prehistoric times. Of course, brass is used in many places: "Brass is a substitutional alloy. It is used for decoration for its bright gold-like appearance; for applications where low friction is required such as locks, gears, bearings, doorknobs, ammunition, and valves; for plumbing and electrical applications; and extensively in musical instruments such as horns and bells for its acoustic properties. It is also used in zippers. Because it is softer than most other metals in general use, brass is often used in situations where it is important that sparks not be struck, as in fittings and tools around explosive gases. Brass has a muted yellow color, somewhat similar to gold. It is relatively resistant to tarnishing, and is often used as decoration and for coins. In antiquity, polished brass was often used as a mirror." Other sites tout brass for its utility for plumbing, its most ubiquitous use.

It's obvious that children will encounter brass regularly in their daily lives, like when they handle doorknobs or handle keys. The even-handed CPSIA, as administered by the new "common sense" CPSC, seems nonetheless to place an unusual burden on those knuckleheads like me still left in the children's market. WE are not allowed to use brass with more than 0.03% lead content by weight (300 ppm), falling inevitably to 0.01% lead by weight (100 ppm) in two years. Here are a couple more "fun facts" about brass: brass typically has 2% lead by weight AND 90% of brass alloys (including bronze) are recycled. In other words, it is hard to control the lead content of this environmentally-friendly metal. Hmmm.

We know that brass pipes are used for plumbing everywhere, even in Mr. Waxman's house. Children will come in contact with brass when they wash their hands in warm water that travelled through brass pipes or drink from the drinking fountain at school. Oops, did I mention high levels of lead in drinking fountains? Like the 92% in LA Unified School District Schools that remain unrepaired to this day? Sad but true. The LAUSD situation is apparently not NEARLY the crisis presented by brass bushings or brass connectors in toys, clothing or shoes. The CPSIA in its infinite wisdom has determined that children's businesses should close or their owners should go to jail if they use such things - but other uses of brass in daily life are fine, just fine.

But what about brass in those other uses - are they restricted at all? According to Wikipedia, keys must now contain less than 1.5% lead by weight in California to avoid Proposition 65 labeling. To clarify, keys with greater content than 1.5% are still legal to sell in CA but would need to be labeled under Prop. 65. The approved lead content in keys is 50x the legal limit on lead content in brass in children's products. Yeah, that makes sense. And in California and in Vermont, brass plumbing fixtures and pipes used to convey water for human consumption must have not more than 0.25% lead by weight by January 1, 2010 - 9x the legal limit on lead in brass in children's products. [The CA limit is a weighted average, so individual components can exceed this limit.] I do not believe this law requires retrofitting existing California's pipes. The current limit on lead in California pipes is 8% by weight, a mere 267x the legal limit on lead content in brass used in children's products.

I cannot find any other restrictions on brass in any products in our country. I probably missed something but no restriction will exceed the zeal of the CPSIA. It is unique as a regulation, both for its sense of sanctity and its overreaching, penal ineffectiveness. Trumpets don't have legal lead limits, despite being made of brass and intended to be mouthed. Leaded fountains remain in schools across the country, and bad plumbing is everywhere. Nonetheless it is the children's product industry alone that must endure upheaval from the loss of brass as a basic material. Need I mention that brass was at the heart of the pens crisis earlier this year?

When the CPSC makes its inevitable decision to shut down Learning Curve's business over its use of brass bushings, they will intone that it's not their fault, the darned law made 'em do it. The leadership will then later issue some press releases about vigorously enforcing the law and making everyone safe. There will be no acknowledgement of their role as a tool in the wanton destruction of a valued industry. Not their fault. . . .

Wake me when the nightmare is over.


Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

It is worth noting that when the CPSC turns down the LC request, they will be confirming (by precedent) the illegality of all other brass included in children's products. Notably, this will include rentals of musical instruments to school orchestras, among other things. Perhaps one could argue that musical instruments themselves are not "intended" for children, although I think that's doubtful in some cases; rentals of horns to elementary school-age children is a different matter altogether. [Do some strings used in string instruments, like guitars, include brass, too?] May I suggest that the CPSC use some of their new field staff to stage some highly publicized raids to make it clear that they intend to VIGOROUSLY enforce this law, regardless of how stupid it is? That would make me feel much safer.

Mars Feeney said...

Rick, you have been relentless, cogent, and accurate in your analysis of the CPSIA.
Yet Congress has refused to engage in any meaningful discussion of this law.

I and myriads of others have written Congress expressing our dismay at the many absurdities of the CPSIA. I have been writing for almost 10 months, others for longer. But no matter what we say or which of the many absurdities of the CPSIA we choose to expose, the responses from Congress have not changed. Like a broken record they repeat the same pathetic non-response:

“I share your concern about the implementation of the CPSIA. Rest assured I will continue to monitor the situation at the CPSC.”

This is downright surreal.

But it all came clear to me last night in a Fox Mulder like dream:

Aliens want our lead! Some in congress are in the know about this but are unable to speak of it for fear of retaliation by these immensely powerful beings. These aliens have directed Congress to free up as much lead as possible. The CPSIA was the best Congress could come up with.

Congress knows they cannot back up this law rationally nor are they free to speak of the aliens. Hence Congress’s complete refusal to meaningfully engage in discussions about the CPSIA. It’s the best they can do to protect us all from the wrath of the aliens.

I understand now. The only thing I am unsure about is this: is Waxman merely the tool of the aliens or is he an alien himself?

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Hey, guys, forget brass zippers, too. Kids can suck on keys, handle cell phones, touch door knobs and drink water conveyed for miles in brass pipes, but they can't buy toys using brass connectors, jackets with brass zippers, toy cars with brass bushings or rent brass instruments for the school orchestra. Yup, the CPSIA finally brought common sense and good judgment to children's product safety!