Sunday, August 9, 2009

CPSIA - Report from the Department of "Common Sense"

I am sure you, like me, are deeply grateful at the full scale adoption of "common sense" in the implementation of the CPSIA. It solves so many problems and makes life so easy for industry - it's a terrific development. As you know, this took Congressional leadership to get done. In April, 28 Senators wrote a letter to the CPSC imploring them to use "common sense" in implementing the noxious CPSIA (they didn't exactly call it the "noxious" CPSIA but there you go). Specifically, our Senatorial leaders implored the CPSC as follows: "It is our view that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is empowered by the CPSIA to exercise its authority and enforcement discretion in a manner that ensures enforcement of the Act in a comprehensive manner while providing appropriate and common-sense relief to businesses and institutions." [Emphasis added.] Since then, the CPSC has been busily trying to answer this clarion call with ever more common sensical rulings and guidance.

I have come to believe that "common sense" must be in the eyes of the beholder. I once thought that I, too, knew what "common sense" was. Apparently not. Wikipedia defines "common sense" as "Common sense refers to those beliefs or propositions that seem, to many people, to be prudent and of sound judgment, without dependence upon esoteric knowledge." Given the latest rulings by the CPSC, I must not be included in "many people". Take this blog with a grain of salt, I guess.

The latest "common sense" blast from the CPSC has been ringing in my ears for a couple days now. Perhaps you have waded through their illuminating 94-pager setting out materials that are exceptions to the lead testing requirements. I wrote about this a couple days ago. Although I realize that this document should not be taken as a recommendation on the composition of children's products, it is hard to resist the urge to take it as a CPSC-designated safe harbor. I also know that's not true, since the CPSC went to pains to make it clear that it will be wasting a great deal of resources checking up on these certifiably "safe" materials and will bring a plague of frogs on you if you are one ppm over the line. I believe Mr. Waxman thinks this is what a cautious, forward-thinking government should do.

Anyhow . . . I was puzzling over the list of metals and jewels deemed okay by the new common sense CPSC. Of course, when I read it, I asked myself who paid for this report - Tiffany's? Perhaps the London Metals Exchange.

Let's see, if I want to redesign my products to avoid the expensive CPSIA testing requirements, what materials are left available to me? [Remember, this is a "common sense" implementation of the law.]

How about plastics? We use a lot of plastics, like polystyrene, polypropylene and ABS, largely, with a few other common variants thrown in for good luck. This is hardly unusual - these are among the most common consumer product plastics on Earth. You buy hundreds of pounds of these plastics every year in your daily life. According to the CPSC, however, these materials cannot be certified lead-free (ergo not deemed compliant with the law, has nothing to do with safety) and need to be endlessly retested. [Btw, I have been doing just that and since 1990, we have NEVER had a single failure for lead. But of course, that's only 19 years, can't rule out a future failure . . . .]

So all of our products made of plastics need to be retooled to avoid testing. What can we use?

The CPSC lists a variety of metals that can be used without testing. The agency naturally eliminates common steel (found in most fasteners and staples and formed metal parts). Darn. Alloys like brass are also out (this is why pens are a "common sense" problem). Ouch, that hurts. Now what?

Well, you are certainly NOT out of options. The CPSC helpfully provides this excellent list for our comfort:

1. Pure gold (no carats specified, let's assume 24 carat - why not use the good stuff?!)
2. Pure silver
3. Titanium (both α-and β-phases)
4. Platinum

These materials are a bit expensive. The current cost per pound of gold is $15,317. Hmmm. Silver is cheaper, only $266 per pound. Please note, for perspective, that Aluminum (must be tested, of course) is $.89 per pound, steel costs about $.18 per pound and copper costs $2.75 per pound. Brass sells for about half copper. Even titanium, which is unworkable in the low tech factories that make children's products, costs about $10 per pound. Finally, our friend Platinum is going for a mere $18,264 a pound.

BUT those aren't the only options you have under the new common sense guidelines! You can also add:

5. Palladium ($4,029 per pound currently)
6. Rhodium ($24,820 per pound, currently)
7. Osmium ($5,840 per pound, currently)
8. Iridium ($6,205 per pound, currently)
9. Ruthenium ($1,314 per pound, currently) This cheapy is only for bargain hunters.

Boy, I can hardly decide!

A few interesting tidbits about these great new material choices provided by the ever-sensible CPSC:

Palladium is mined and it takes ONLY "many metric tons of ore" to extract one troy ounce of the precious metal (31 grams). It is also possible to gin some up with nuclear fission if your children's product company has some space nuclear reactor capacity. Unfortunately, we stopped using our reactor a while ago since it uses lead in some of its components.

Rhodium, deemed one of the world's most expensive precious metals, has only 25 tons of annual production and at one time was eight times more expensive than gold. Price is no concern when safety is concerned, of course! Like its brethren on the "okay" list, Rhodium is also abstracted from spent nuclear fuel rods. Here's a "watch out": "Rhodium metal is, as a noble metal, inert. However, when rhodium is chemically bound, it is reactive. Lethal intake (LD50) for rats is 12.6 mg/kg of rhodium chloride (RhCl3). Rhodium compounds can strongly stain human skin." On the plus side, it does NOT contain lead! In fact, it isn't lead at all.

Osmium is the second densest metal (after Iridium, also on the CPSC's preferred list). That's going to whack your shipping costs, ouch. Current consumption of Osmium in the U.S., for all uses, is estimated at about 140 pounds. Better get yours now! World production is estimated at less one ton per year. And . . . "Osmium reacts with oxygen at room temperature forming volatile osmium tetroxide. Some osmium compounds are also converted to the tetroxide if oxygen is present. This makes osmium tetroxide the main source for the contact to the environment. Osmium tetroxide is highly volatile and penetrates skin readily, and is very toxic by inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact." Okay, it explodes and it poisons, but at least it's not lead.

Iridium is found on meteorites and may be a clue to the extinction of the dinosaurs. And you thought it was lead poisoning, come on! Iridium is the most corrosion resistant metal known to man, which will be helpful if you store your children's product in a strong acid bath. About 6,800 pounds are produced annually. Since the CPSC has blessed using Iridium in children's products without testing, it is worth noting that "finely divided iridium powder can be hazardous to handle, as it is an irritant and may ignite in air. Very little is known about the toxicity of iridium compounds because they are used in very small amounts, but soluble salts, such as the iridium halides, could be hazardous due to elements other than iridium or due to iridium itself." Okay, it's just a "watch out", no need to panic. I am sure the CPSC thought of this when publishing its list . . . .

Finally, there's Ruthenium, produced in the tiny quantity of 12 tons per year and deemed "exceedingly rare". We probably should avoid the Ruthenium refined from used nuclear fuel rods, just some basic "common sense" there! Ditto for the other metals sourced from nuclear fission. Ruthenium poses a few common health and safety issues: "The compound ruthenium tetroxide, RuO4, similar to osmium tetroxide, is volatile, highly toxic and may cause explosions if allowed to come into contact with combustible materials. Ruthenium plays no biological role but does strongly stain human skin, may be carcinogenic and bio-accumulates in bone." Don't worry though, the CPSC thinks this item is just fine to include in children's products!

Yes, our costs are going to go up, but what about bling? We gotta have some sizzle. Unfortunately, the CPSC has a big problem with rhinestones, crystals and glass beads - those might have lead in them (horrors!) and therefore are ILLEGAL. I know they are inexpensive and are used everywhere on everything like jewelry, clothing, footwear and even sunglasses, but out they go. You can't (CANNOT) be too safe. So what does the common sense CPSC offer as a substitute? You knew they wouldn't let you down - all you need to do is pour in gobs of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds! Pearls are good, too. Price is no object when safety is concerned.

I am picturing diamond and ruby-encrusted alphabet blocks made of a ruthenium-iridium alloy . . . yes, it's a brave new world. I guarantee I would not have thought of this without the help of the CPSC. Thank heavens for government!

Glad we cleared all that up. Common sense, you gotta love it! I can't wait for the CPSC's guidelines on when to come in out of the rain.


Geoff Jones said...

I would remind the gentle reader of a few things;
First is that safety is the goal, as an industry we need to make products that are safe, I would admonish my peers in the industry from using MOST of the metals listed in the CPSC list of compounds known NOT to contain lead since these compounds are generally toxic (Thanks for pointing this out Rick).
Second please do not forget that this is the same government that ROUTINELY spends hundreds of dollars on toilet seats, hammers and utensils ($433 for a hammer, what a bargain, It must be lead free and made of rhodium). Don't forget the spectactular fireball that occurred when a toolkit lost by a NASA astronaut fell to earth last week. At a cost of about $100,000 those must be some VERY safe tools.

Tristan Benz said...

This is HILARIOUS!!!!! We've come full circle to your "stupider and stupider" posts - in fact, every post should have the word stupid in the title.

Oye - it seems to me to be a rather "let them eat cake" moment in America when we're told we can use gold and diamonds at a time when many Americans are now visiting food banks for the very first time in their lives!

Then again, it's great to know, after all these months of "limbo" that I can now start working on a line of "ULTIMATE BLING" hairbows - with GOLD barrette frames, Diamond doo-dads...!! I'll be TOTALLY ahead of the game, for the up-and-coming market in this great recovery we've got going! Hey - maybe Waxman has some extra cash in some account somewhere, to help me with re-startup costs (I'm sure he and his associates will have no trouble with the numbers, given they're so sure what they're doing is right and all things in America are on the road to recover - it's a sure win for any venture capitalist!!).

Thanks for cracking me up. Truly hilarious.