Saturday, March 26, 2011

CPSIA - Remember the Victims (If You Can Find Them)

Rumorville has it that a draft amendment to the CPSIA is pending in the next few days. As I contemplate what that might mean, I think back to where the CPSIA began and what has been achieved in its wake.

As an aside, there are actual poisoning risks in the world. As previously noted, the Japanese nuclear crisis seems pretty real to me. In the past 24 hours, the owner of the disabled Japanese reactors told the press that they evacuated one of the reactors (again) because the radiation level was now a mere 10 million times "normal" levels. As if to make the point that they are out of their depth, the Japanese utility later announced that it wasn't really 10 million times too high, just 100,000 times. It's always good to check your work.

In the U.S., we remain blissfully, almost quaintly obsessed with lead. Lead is THE problem we need to solve, apparently, according to the junior scientists who called themselves the 110th Congress. As far as I can tell, the CPSC has enthusiastically embraced this point of view.


Well, we have been told monotonously that there is NO safe level for lead. Commissioner Bob Adler wrote a 21-page treatise to "prove" the point (rebutted by yours truly here). And the consumer groups, ably represented by Don Mays of Consumer Union and Dana Best of the AAP, repeated the slogan in their February 16th testimony on the urgent need to reduce lead levels to 100 ppm. When the lead zealots speak of the dire need to protect against this "scourge", they never speak in terms of CPSC injury statistics. That makes sense. As I have documented, there have been fewer lead injuries in a decade than the fingers on your right hand.

But isn't this all about injuries? If there is REALLY no safe level for lead, shouldn't it be easy to find victims? Ahem, the consumer groups state that lead harms "silently". You can't tell you are being harmed, you see! When questioned about "victims", those few deigning to respond to my stupid questions (Jan Schakowsky and a staffer for a Senate Democrat) point to a meeting held in May 2008 with victims of lead poisoning. Nonetheless, they have never produced victim case histories and typically simply wag their fingers at me over lead poisoning.

I am no fan of lead or of lead poisoning, believe me, but I think I am entitled to an answer. If the object of the law is the prevention of childhood injuries, and if this May 2008 meeting was the critical basis for the push for the CPSIA, who were the victims at the meeting? How many victims were seen, and how were they poisoned?

Before we answer this question, it is important to note that the issue here is NOT lead-in-paint. As is well-known, lead-in-paint has been illegal for decades. Victims of lead-in-paint from products sold today are victims of violations of law. We are looking to find victims of lead-in-substrate. The over-arching regulation of lead-in-substrate is the source of the regulatory misery that befell ATVs, bicycles, pens, musical instruments, books, educational materials, rhinestones, t-shirts, shoes, and so on. Do these victims exist? No lead zealot or CPSIA apologist has ever produced even one lead-in-substrate victim in three years. Were they at the May 2008 meeting?

The Internet knows all. Parents of two childhood victims of lead-in-paint were present at the 2008 meeting, as identified in several press reports. See "Parents Visit Congress to 'Get the Lead Out' of Toys", as well as "Congress vs. lobbyists over tainted toys" and this transcript of the Lou Dobbs Show (May 23, 2008) thoughtfully provided by the plaintiffs lawyer front Center for Justice and Democracy. There is no mention of any child harmed by lead-in-substrate. Two victims of lead-in-paint spurred this legislation. That's it.

Without a demonstration that there are actual victims of lead-in-substrate in existence, the CPSIA has no proven factual basis. It's all pure conjecture. Playing fast and loose with the facts, the lead zealots have SOLD the idea that this law was necessary, all without PROOF. Perhaps in the heady days of 2007/8, the legislators didn't recognize the significance of the data problem. But today, members of the 112th Congress, facing the prospect of an amendment to fix the CPSIA, cannot afford the same ignorance. Constituents have been screaming for years now - and apparently with good reason.

The misuse of data, the zealots' twisting of fear of lead-in-paint into a blind fear of everything, got us into this mess. Questions need to be asked as the new amendment is processed. Why are we doing this? Who is really being protected here?

In desperation, the consumer groups are saying just about anything to keep their law in place. Spreading fear of bicycle licking and trombone playing is certainly not beneath them. Dr. Dana Best sums up the consumer groups' dubious, twisted "argument" for the need for a tightened CPSIA:

"An object containing 77 ppm of lead is capable of raising a child's blood lead level to a level that would result in the loss of one IQ point. . . . Ingestion of an item containing 300 ppm of lead would result in the loss of almost four IQ points . . . . When averaged across even a modest population of children, the public health harm caused by lead is significant. Considering that there are about 75 million children in our nation, impacting one-half of one percent of all children would mean an exposure of 3.75 million children. . . . For one million children, [the loss of lifetime income from one IQ point per child] would total over $8.3 billion." [Emphasis added]

Yet Dr. Best cannot deliver the goods to prove her farfetched theories and even more farfetched mathematics. Stating the danger in terms of 3.75 million possible victims is corrupt and immoral when you cannot deliver even one victim.

Let's cross our fingers that Congress is resolved to not be fooled again. If there is a hearing, ask for real data, real case histories, real proof.

I can't wait to hear about the kid who licked the ATV engine block and was poisoned by . . . lead? Give me a break.

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