Ms. Inez Moore Tenenbaum
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
November 29, 2010
Dear Ms. Tenenbaum:
Have you been wondering if the U.S. government and
the corporations it regulates have been conspiring to eliminate the American consumer who can’t afford high quality goods?
Well, call me a
wingnut but this possibility just plain smacked me in the face when I read last week that your agency (you know, the good old CPSC) was “investigating” lead contamination of some colorful decorated glasses imported from China.
You notice how I put “investigating” in “quotes”? That’s because it wasn’t really your investigation, was it? You were just following up on the work of the Associated Press, which used its own money to pay for a laboratory analysis of glasses – decorated with images from Warner Brothers movies and Coca-Cola designs – and found they exceeded federal limits for lead in children’s drinking glasses by up to 1,000 times.
I did like the way you refused to accept
that these Superman-Wonder Woman-Superheroes of Star Wars glasses were meant for adults only. At first I thought it sounded silly – I mean, duh, everyone knows kids like superhero products – but I figured it out. You have no set limit for lead in adult products. So despite the best efforts of our friendly business community to define these as adult products, this decision enabled you to angle for a recall of the contaminated glasses. Good work there!
But can I just ask why you don’t have a safety limit for adults? Don’t we count too? The AP tests found that the images of the glasses contained 16-30.2 percent lead. Is that somehow safe for adults when your limit for kids is .03 percent? Acknowledged that the lead paint safety standard is one of the toughest in the world. Acknowledged that the CPSC isn’t responsible for monitoring all the country’s lead risks or even setting all the standards. But shouldn’t we find some consensus on what’s safe for all? Did anyone tell you that the EPA’s idea of the safe amount of lead in drinking water is, um, none: The maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) is zero. This is the level determined to be safe by toxicological and biomedical considerations, independent of feasibility.
Just a thought. You probably already know that. But if so, why aren’t you
setting tougher limits? And while I’m a big fan of investigative journalism, I still wonder why it’s AP doing the initial consumer protection work here. Shouldn’t the companies selling these products be as vigilant? More so, actually? Shouldn’t you?
Remember last month when it was testing by a Florida newspaper, The Tampa Tribune, that showed that reusable grocery bags were contained with lead? Or this past summer when McDonald’s recalled more than 12 million “Shrek 3” glasses contaminated with the toxic metal cadmium (and also a little lead). That only happened because consumer advocates ran some tests, contacted a U.S. Congresswoman, and she nudged you into an “investigation” of your own. As the congressman, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said at the time, “Our children’s health should not depend on the consciences of anonymous sources.”
Geez, call me a wingnut again, but I think she’s right. We should be able to depend – at least more than this – on the consciences of our government regulators and our business leaders. And – call me a dingbat too if you like – I also think we should damn well be able to learn from our mistakes.
I bring up the latter after reading through your list of lead-poisoned product recalls since mid-July 2001 when you started posting them on-lin). Do you realize that there are 289 recalls listed through September 29 of this year, that we’re talking more than 30 recalls every single year? Do you realize that I had to hand count them to get that number?
Just to summarize, the list shows that products include, yes, decorated glasses but also children’s jewelry, gloves, furniture, hockey sticks, educational kits, bicycle bells, cloth books, toys, boots, masks, balls, craft kits, shows, ice skates, construction play sets, beads, manicure kits, sunglasses, cribs, xylophones, bookends, cosmetic accessory bags, CD players, MP3 players, candle charms, magnets, key chains, pajamas, paint brushes, sleeping bags, storage bins, pens, fake teeth, locks, water bottles, Easter egg containers, puzzles, journals, calendars, memory test cards, sketchbooks, gardening tools, classroom math aids, blocks, train sets, board games, photo frames, play mats, lamps, coin banks, wagons, measuring charts, water globes, pencil pouches, pillows, racing helmets, potty training seats, music boxes, Halloween pails, cake decorations, bookmarks… (and, okay, I’m a little tired of listing these now) and flashlights.
And when you get into the finer details, you’ll also notice that just like the superhero glasses and the grocery store bags, almost ALL of these lead-tainted products came from China. I know, I know, China isn’t the source of all contamination problems. We create plenty ourselves. But still we do have near ten years of data showing that cheap products imported from that country are more than likely to contain poisonous metals. Just two years ago, The New York Times won a Pulitzer prize for documenting such problems, especially in medicines. And what have we done about that? Well, apparently, we’re still just “investigating” and recalling and exposing the American consumer to potential lead poisoning on a monthly basis.
Why don’t we have tougher regulations? Why are American businesses not scrutinizing every such import for heavy contamination? Why aren’t there penalties invoked here? And why are our regulators and industries so willing to put the rest of us at risk? It could be that it’s just profitable but surely our captains of industry, our government agencies, care more about the health of American citizens than insuring profitability.
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?