Even before the recent flurry of children’s toy recalls, I questioned the effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) when they failed to act on the presence of lead in children’s lunchboxes. The news has only gotten worse, since I wrote about it last February. Almost everyday, I receive a new email from the CPSC listing more toy recalls, mostly for lead content. How can this be? Who is protecting our youngest consumers?
In the past two months, there have been millions of toys recalled for dangerous levels of lead content, and other products that contain smaller levels of lead, such as lunchboxes, have not been recalled. In fact, doctors warn that lead levels considered safe by the CPSC still put children at risk. According to WebMD,
Lead poisoning interferes with neural development in children and developing fetuses. High levels of lead in children can cause learning and behavior problems.
The CDC considers lead levels in the blood above 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to be a concern in children. But some studies have shown harmful effects in children with lead levels measured at or near the current standard.
The CPSC was created in 1974 to protect consumers from the expanding globalization of products. Since its creation, imports to the US have increased 338 percent, yet the CPSC’s budget is less than half of what it was in 1974! While we buy more overseas products, the US government has been cutting staffing for this agency, limiting its ability to regulate imports and protect consumers. The agency began with 800 employees in the seventies, and now the CPSC has only 420 staff members. Currently, there is a bill written to empower the agency: The Safety Assurance For Every Consumer Product Act (SAFE), yet CPSC chairperson Nancy Nord opposes this bill.
- Require children’s products to undergo independent third-party testing;
- Expand civil and criminal penalties;Ban lead in children’s products;
- Enhance CPSC recall and inspection authority;
- Expedite recall disclosure to the public; and
- Provide additional resources to the CPSC.
Why would Nancy Nord oppose these changes, especially when the CPSC has only one full-time toy tester? In an interview on PBS, Nord says,
But the change that we’ve got to have is change that is going to be constructive, workable, and is going to help the agency do its job. My concerns with the Senate bill is that it includes a number of requirements for undertaking activities that are really outside our core mission.
For example, it has us mediating employer and employee disputes in whistleblower cases. It has us implementing or enforcing intellectual property rights violations in some instances. It has us certifying laboratories.
Nord has also come under scrutiny lately for traveling on toy industry dollars, and many people are calling for her resignation.
So this is nasty stuff, and it appears that the chemical is actually converting into it in the body.” Of course, Aqua Dots was manufactured in China, where most of the recently recalled toys have originated from.
Representative Diana Degette (D-Colorado) co-introduced the SAFE Act to revamp the CPSC. According to Degette,
You’ve got more products coming in from overseas. You’ve got a huge spike in recalls, which is very concerning, because, of course, only a fraction of those people who bought the products will return them. And you have the head of the agency saying, “Oh, well, this is no big deal, and we don’t want the money.”
Over two-thirds of the recent recalls involve products from China, and the problem of dangerous toys is growing. With the holiday season approaching, many parents are very concerned. The Toy Industry Association has launched a new site to inform parents about toy safety. Of course, this site is designed to assure parents that the toy industry is using rigorous standards of toy safety, and there is a lot of useful information on the site; however, you do have to consider the source. For example, the Toy Industry Association answers the question, “Should I avoid toys made in China?” by stating:
All toys sold in America regardless of where they are made must conform to tough U.S. safety standards – standards that have served as models for other industries and countries around the world.
Since it is companies, not countries, that make toys, it is companies that are responsible for adhering to rigorous safety standards and conducting inspections throughout the process. Random on-site and off-site testing occurs in all manufacturing plants, in China and elsewhere. Toys are also randomly inspected before export to the US.
In light of the recent recalls, there has been additional testing and vigilance by toy manufacturers, retailers and importers.
Somehow, these assurances don’t make me feel better in light of recent events. I will stick to researching reputable companies, such as Plan Toys, and homemade gifts for my children. I will continue my efforts to educate my children and family on junk toys and hope that one day, we can once again shop safely for children’s toys.
CPSC chart source: Campaign for America’s Future