Monday, November 29, 2010

CPSIA - Wingnut or Dingbat, You Make the Call!

Hey, it's her words - is Deborah Blum a "wingnut" or a "dingbat"? In her blogpost from earlier today, Ms. Blum takes Inez Tenenbaum to task for her sins in not clamping down HARDER on American businesses stupid enough to continue selling children's products. Ms. Blum is apparently a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin.

As an aside, I must say I had the mildest twinge of sympathy for Ms. Tenenbaum after I read Blum's blogpost. This is not my usual emotion when thinking about the CPSC Chairman, but heck, there's no winning for her, is there? I don't want her job.

Ms. Blum's contention is so asinine that it hardly bears repeating except that apparently Twitter is alive with tweets and re-tweets of her blogpost. Her thesis is that Ms. Tenenbaum tolerates excessive amounts of lead in children's products and explains it thus:

"So I’ve come up with a nice little conspiracy theory. You and your business partners are tired of low-income consumers. They can only afford dirt-cheap crap from China, their purchases don’t add up enough to float the balance sheets. So, of course, you aren’t protecting them with tougher regulations. Of course, American corporations aren’t investing in safer products. Slowly but surely, one piece of jewelry, one pair of plastic boots at a time, you’re getting rid of everyone who doesn’t matter enough to be kept safe. Sure it sounds crazy. But is it any crazier than importing poisoned goods for almost ten years without looking for alternatives or better safety systems? I don’t think so. So who’s the wingnut now?" [Emphasis added]

Hey, Ms. Blum, I can answer that one - YOU are the wingnut.

Pot calling the kettle black, I think Ms. Blum shows why some blogs must be "discounted". She makes about every possible reactive error in assessing the lead "problem" in children's products:
  • She confuses CPSC lead recalls (according to her, 289 since 2001 - "more than 30 recalls every single year") with lead injuries. Hysteria over the POSSIBILITY of injury without bothering to assess the PROBABILITY of injury is how we got into this mess in the first place. I am sorry Ms. Blum is so easily rattled but isn't the data on injuries relevant? I have documented one reported death and three unverified injuries from lead in this period of time. Should we turn our lives upside down to reduce that risk further? This only amplifies my call for a National Xanax Fund.
  • She reasons from headlines but shows little mastery of the actual facts. She cites the recall of McDonald's Shrek glasses ("McDonald’s recalled more than 12 million “Shrek 3″ glasses contaminated with the toxic metal cadmium (and also a little lead)") but fails to note that the CSPC has acknowledged in WRITING that the glasses were safe. She also cites the AP's recent report of lead and cadmium in enamel baked on certain glasses, but fails to note that the AP also admitted that the health risk was low or that the presence of these heavy metals is LEGAL in enamels of this type. Congress did that, and how could we EVER doubt Congress?!
  • Ms. Blum repeats the junk science notion that if lead is bad in some cases, it MUST be bad in all cases. She absurdly compares lead in enamel with lead in drinking water, and then asks why there aren't standards to protect adults from the dangers of lead in enamels. Ms. Blum, can I see your turnip truck?
  • Ms. Blum plays the China card, a jingoistic line of reasoning used by blamestormers. We make many of our products in China, and I consider this kind of finger pointing a contemporary form of racism. I have a lot of experience with Chinese sources, and have good reason to trust our trading partners. Ms. Blum regrettably has no idea what she is talking about when she blames "China", as though we all buy from the government of China. We do business with other privately-owned companies, not "China". It may make the world seem less complex to equate "cheap" with "poor quality" or "dangerous". It is not accurate, however.

If the Deborah Blums of the world get the upper hand in this regulatory mess, they will solve the lead problem, I am sure. It won't be a solution you will like, nor will it be effective. Lead was here before Deborah Blum roamed the Earth and will here after she's gone - it's an ELEMENT, after all. No law can banish it, and no economy can survive if lead must be eliminated in all forms from all products, even in unharmful trace amounts.

She will succeed, however, in killing off all companies that make children's products. That will solve the "problem" she is apparently obsessed with, but will create other, more serious ones.

Let's hope we don't continue to slide down this slippery slope led by people who can't decide if they are wingnuts or dingbats. It's a tough call, I'll admit. She might be both.

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