Dastardly Daiso, the hapless Japanese chain of dollar stores that probably regrets the day it first heard of the U.S., has been forced to recall yet more items. This recall, their sixth in recent years, involves five items for excessive lead. They are currently under injunction by the CPSC and the U.S. Attorney. Uh-oh.
Excessive lead in kids' products - that sounds AWFUL, doesn't it? In the tradition of most modern commentators, I thought I'd write this blogpost without reading the recall notice. After all, I know what it says without reading it, right? Well, at THIS blog, we have standards, you know. My editor INSISTED that I read it.
So I read it, and here are the details. You better sit down . . . the horror of it all . . . there are five items involved: one cloth purse, two pairs of earrings and two necklaces. The total number of units, across all five items, is 190 pieces, or less than 40 per item. And how did dastardly Daiso endanger kids THIS time? "The surface paint on the zippers of the coin purses and the clasps on the jewelry contain high levels of lead." Whoa! The retail price of these items is about $1.50 each, so the total value of this recall is $285. There were no injuries reported. The CPSC put out a press release so all of America could know how safe they were.
SCIENCE TIME: The presence of lead in the zipper paint and in the clasp does not itself cause any harm. Lead is a neurotoxin, true, but lead must enter your bloodstream to do harm. And if it does manage to get in there (through inhalation of dust or through ingestion of bio-available lead), blood lead levels must rise to a certain point before any harm can possibly occur. Since we all consume lead every day in our food, water and air, the human body clearly can process some lead without harm - it does not simply accumulate. The amount (mass) of lead in these items is probably close to nil. I assert that if you chose to have a meal comprised of only the zippers and clasps from the 190 recalled units (ALL of them), you could not raise your blood lead levels high enough to do damage. AND the impact of lead in blood varies by the age of child. As the child ages, the impact from lead dramatically diminished. This is why Congress chose not to protect my blog readers - they are all adults and out of harm's way. Lead is principally a problem for the "under 3's". The Daiso items are not for children under three, so the odds of harm are excruciating low. And it is utterly inconceivable that one person would eat all of the zipper paint and clasps in this minuscule recall. So, is this a public health crisis? You decide!
Back to Blog Time: Now, let's think of Daiso and its sorry tale. They have previously been the subject of five recalls of 19 items, totally 698 units, over two years. For this series of "transgressions", they were whacked with an injunction by the U.S. Attorney against further importing of toys (Tenenbaum: "Now the fine was large, but that wasn’t the big news . . . . We worked closely with the Justice Department on this case, and Daiso has a very high hurdle to jump over to EVER get back in the import business again"). Daiso also was hit with a "get the message" penalty of $2.05 million. This is about $1,000 per unit in penalties for items with a retail value of between $1 and $4 each. That's gotta get your attention.
So now that Daiso has stepped across the line again, what will the CPSC do? This kind of transgression can't go unpunished, right? Don't we live in a society based on retribution today? [We learned it from the Taliban.] Having hit Daiso with a $2.05 million penalty last time, the agency has to set this penalty higher since Daiso obviously is so incorrigible. If the last penalty was $1,000 per unit, maybe the agency should hit them with a penalty of $100,000 per unit to get them to take our laws seriously. Darnit, they CAN'T - that exceeds the maximum penalty of $15 million. Now what?
There's always jail time. Somebody needs to pay, of course. How can the agency ignore an offense of this scale? 190 units is unforgivable. That's almost $300 in value! That's like one iPhone (with a two-year phone contract). We can't let the people be endangered like that!
They were really good at torture in the Middle Ages - maybe something gory would get Daiso's attention this time. Capture a manager and have him/her drawn-and-quartered in the public square? The agency could webcast it! There are so many options. The agency needs to do whatever is necessary to keep American kids safe, so I certainly hope they will use their entire arsenal. Waterboarding?
Personally, I am grateful to Congress for not giving the CPSC nukes.