Friday, June 18, 2010

CPSIA - CPSC Sets Its Sights On the Real Menace to Society . . . Buttons

In yesterday's USA Today article entitled "Lead testing can be costly for mom and pop toy shops", Scott Wolfson, Director of Public Affairs at the CPSC, cited the "positive effects" of the CPSIA on the market. What were those "positive effects" that Wolfson bragged about to the national media? "[Wolfson] notes global suppliers are choosing lead-free buttons for adult and children's clothing, which is safer for everyone and helps shift the burden from small businesses to suppliers up the line. He says Tenenbaum is trying 'to find the right balance between compliance and not putting companies out of business.'"

Let's be clear here, Wolfson is talking about making everyone "safer" by eliminating lead-in-substrate in buttons. He is NOT talking about lead-in-paint. Lead-in-paint has been illegal for decades, and a small number of recalls have occurred for lead-in-paint violations relating to buttons. [No injuries were ever reported, of course, but don't get me started.] Buttons have been recalled for coming loose and violating the small parts rules. This is a REAL hazard to small children. Kids can actually choke on a button and be injured. Wolfson is NOT talking about this issue. He is focusing on other "positive effects" from the law.

Wolfson also took pains to note that the buttons were being removed from adult clothing, too. Did you realize how much danger you were in before the CPSC was able to induce these "positive effects"? I really appreciate Wolfson bringing this to my attention. Thank heavens for our federal protectors!

How many recalls have occurred in the United States for lead-in-substrate in buttons - EVER? According to the CPSC website, ZERO. According to a Google search this morning, I believe this kind of recall has NEVER occurred ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. And the removal of lead-in-substrate is a positive effect of the law? Is Wolfson responsible to explain this puzzling remark?

So after two years of continuous arguing and the devotion of many tens of thousands of man-hours of work to implement the noxious CPSIA by the federal government and industry alike , the CPSC holds up as its great achievement - buttons. Whew, it's safe to walk the streets of America again!

Thank you CPSC for seeking the right balance between compliance and NOT putting companies out of business. Yeah, I get it.

Unfortunately, by highlighting something as asinine as buttons as a possible lead hazard, the CPSC fuels a long-simmering public hysteria over latent chemical hazards. No one was previously aware that buttons could kill you from their bound=in lead content, but apparently our federal government is quite concerned about button lead content. Isn't that what Wolfson said? After all, why would he mention it to USA Today if it wasn't a problem at all? This kind of remark helps persuade the public that dangers lurk where they can't see them. Lead must be terrible, right, if the CPSC is so hysterical about it? The conclusion is inescapable.

And let's not forget the McDonald's Shrek glasses. Cadmium must also be a terrible problem or else why would our trusted federal government urge recall of the drinking glasses out of "an abundance of caution"? Which are we to believe - the CPSC's actions in demanding the recall for undisclosed trace levels of cadmium in the enamel on the OUTSIDE of the glasses, or Wolfson's own written reassurance that the glasses aren't toxic? And of course, there is the Congressional "inquiry" by Waxman and Stupak as further evidence of the "justifiable" health concern. As the relentless stream of breathless and panicked media stories confirm, the public believes that the recall was justified and therefore that cadmium is a real concern, a silent "killer". The fact that there has never been a single reported cadmium injury from a consumer product in this country's history is never discussed.

This kind of reinforcement leads to paranoia about many safe products - and makes doing business in the children's market in this country exceptionally difficult and unpleasant now. No one trusts us anymore and the only thing we did wrong was elect the wrong people to Congress.

The message that we business people can't be trusted is clogging the airwaves almost daily. The weekly corporate bashings by Congress and the White House paints a clear picture to the American public. You need only consider the treatment of BP, Toyota, Wellpoint, Massey-Ferguson, GM, Chrysler, evil bankers . . . the list is long. We're all bad, right? That's the theme these days.

CPSC leadership also reinforces the notion that corporations must be closely supervised by the federal government. Corporations will cut corners and take chances with your children's health but for the crusading efforts of this pioneering and courageous safety agency. Remember Tenenbaum's theme: the CPSC is not a "teething tiger" anymore. With this approach at the CPSC, small wonder then that these are among the USA Today comments:

"Yeah...Tests can be costly, but on the other hand death seems to be pretty costly also. But I guess the determining factor will always be money. Save 10 cents, 10 dollars, 100 dollars at the cost of someone else."

"Well if they cannot test the products they make to insure that our children are safe. Then its time to start making other items. The simple fact is that the Chinese and our bought and paid for congressmen/congress women have allowed this to happen. My opinion ban all products from China since it is evident that they do not care for the health of our citizens."

"WE can never ever trust the Chinese. They are the worst people! Why do we do any business with them is beyond me."

"This is just more gov regulation that the GOP says get's in the way of the Free Market. Let the Free Market get the lead out on it's own. Too bad there's no profits in 'getting the lead out'. It's cheaper to use lead as a filler, and hire lobbyists to pay-off congress. We've got it all dialed-in in America!"

Thanks for all the help, CPSC. You sure are helping our market. Your efforts will only succeed in driving the good people out of this market, along with their good products, their innovations, their productivity gains and their jobs. And who will be around to help educate your kids and grandkids? Let's not think about that one. No, no, ignore me for a few more years. This can go on indefinitely. We'll just take it. We love it. Go ahead.

It's time for Nero to share the stage with the Democrats. Go on, fiddle while Rome burns.


Ben said...

American journalism at it's finest. Heaven forbid they actually report the facts and inform the public on the real dangers of lead. Substrate vs. paint for example. A real reporter would have investigated the button issue instead of parroting Scott Woldson. But it's much easier to scare the public with sensational stories and misinformation.

Ben S said...

Should really source those quotes.

Anonymous said...

The larger question that is missed by the American public, including the media, is what replaces the lead in buttons? Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I suspect that most Americans probably realize that buttons do not occur in nature, but are made by man. My guess is that if you asked most Americans what replaces the lead, they would eventually come back with the following response: "Well the manufacturers will simply chose a 'safer' element or compound." Maybe even Scott would come back with that.

Of course, what they don't seem to know is that there is no such list of 'safe' chemicals or compounds. That is presumably one of the goals of updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): to produce a list of "safe" chemicals. You would think that the public would get this after the recent cadmium in jewelry scare: yes, indeed, it is possible that loathesome lead (or anything else we perceive as "bad" today) can be replaced by something just as bad or possibly worse, just as one feared phthalate was replaced by another one which then also was banned.

So, our "salvation" depends on instituting something like FDA approval of drugs for all the 80,000 or so chemicals in use today. Given that drug approvals take around say 5-10 years per drug, yes indeed, America, we can produce that list of safe chemicals in about 80,000 x 7.5 = 600,000 years, assuming we do one at a time in serial fashion. Imagine, though, the jobs program we can create, if we do them all in parallel and start right now! Even if you could do just one chemical in 7.5 years with a single person, that would require 15,000 person hours per drug. So the total for all 80,000 chemicals would be 1.2 billion person hours, surely enough to bring our employment rate down by a noticeable amount.

Now, some might assume that we can use the results on one compound, to make inferences about the safety of another. That way, we could save some money (at the expense of jobs). But surely, in future Congressional testimony, Rachael would have nothing of this type of safety shortcut, though her logic is often difficult to follow. (For example, she does not believe that European toys are properly tested, yet she does not believe they are unsafe. Huh?)

So, I say, let's get to testing all those 80,000 chemicals right now. But don't be surprised if calcium or oxygen don't make it to that safe list. Because, it may turn out that there is "no known safe level" for these elements, any more than there is apparently one for lead.

Anonymous said...

Well, the focus on the danger from buttons makes sense if you consider that the tactic is to whip up fear, which can then be used to justify further expansion of government's powers.

The practice of all government today is to convince people that there's a problem than only an expansion of government power can fix.