March 21, 2011 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
This is my Response for the Record to a supplemental question posed by Commissioner Nancy Nord to the CPSC’s February 16th Hearing on the pending 100 ppm Lead Standards:
Response to Commissioner Nancy Nord’s Request
for Comment in the Federal Register
1. You stated reduction from 300 ppm in substrate to 100 ppm in substrate removes the margin of error for low tech manufacturers. Would you elaborate on this with some of your own testing experience?
When we consider the impact of the lower standard, we first ask how we would manage a failure. As (presumably) rational business people, we want to allocate our capital to maximize our returns, and thus, risks to those returns must be weighed and addressed as appropriate. We have tried to understand our risks under the new lower lead standard – and the results are not encouraging. Once a failure (failed test) is discovered, it is often incurable. A failed test on a completed item including an integrated failed component (e.g., a zipper) likely means a total loss under the CPSIA. Failures of components already subject to valid passing component tests cannot be ruled out and in fact, are likely to occur. Our inability to solve this problem for even trivial violations introduces a new and significant risk of random (unpredictable and uncontrollable) losses to our business.
The agency’s stance on re-testing is not encouraging either. The draft rules on re-testing in the “15 Month Rule” are best described as unworkable. The doubt raised over the consequences of a failed test under pending rules only elevates our concern over how we might deal with a failed test. At present, there seems to be few options. For this reason alone, the proposed reduction of lead standards to 100 ppm is extremely threatening.
Given the dire consequences of a failed test, we must assess whether we can control our supply chains and raw materials/components to always comply with the new lower standard. In my testimony before the Commission, I noted that 98.3% of our passing test reports in a two-year period (2701 CPSIA test reports) were compliant with the new standard. Unfortunately the 1.7% in the range of 100-300 ppm scatters randomly across our many products and components. Thus, we don’t know how to predict which components are prone to risk of non-compliance and the consequences of finding them at the wrong time can be devastating. [It goes without saying that 2701 tests in a two-year period is a strong demonstration of both the devotion of resources and the huge expenditures required by the CPSIA to obtain passing tests reports – continual clean bills of health, over and over and over again.]
Our testing results reveal two troubling trends. First, we have found a material number of our items with one or more components that fall into the 100-300 ppm zone, sometimes just barely above 100 ppm. For a “miss” of as little as 5 ppm of lead entombed permanently in a substrate, an entire lot can be relegated to the garbage heap. Failed components might be as insignificant as a label or a lens cap. We also know from experience that retesting the same unit or units from the same lot may result in a passing test report but do not anticipate that we will be afforded this option to “comply”. In any event, retesting to obtain a clean passing test report does not change the product. If this law is truly about safety, I fail to see what is being accomplished by piling up the test reports to the profit of the test labs. The occurrence of failures under the new standard for a few ppm of lead will raise our costs significantly.
Second, we have encountered significant variability in our testing results. I have attached three test reports as examples of the variability problem. The first report (submitted with my comments on the 100 ppm standard) shows the test results on a single piece of string from a mesh bag holding dominoes. We cut the string into ten pieces and then tested each segment. The lead content results ranged from 239 – 275 ppm. A representative of the bicycle industry gave similar evidence (wide variability in multiple tests on different parts of a single component) at the 100 ppm hearing on February 16th. In the attached test report on tape measures, we found lead levels in coatings in the same tape measure lot ranging from 79-97 ppm, which is more than a 20% variability range. Finally, I have attached three test reports showing yellow plastic substrate from the same lot of educational products at 23, 88 and 139 ppm lead levels. Our success in obtaining passing test reports will apparently depend on LUCK when lead levels are near the 100 ppm concentration. We don’t have a solution to this problem. In our experience, this problem strikes randomly and often absurdly. We have found, for instance, lead levels between 100-300 ppm on zipper housings on the inside of a sewn bag. Lizard tongues might be able to reach it but fortunately, none of our customers are lizards.
None of this randomness or massive expense can be tied to safety – just to the enrichment of testing companies and lawyers. I am hopeful that the Commission will see that action is needed to stop the reduction of the lead standard to 100 ppm to help preserve the value our company brings to schools and families throughout the United States.
September 23, 2010 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
770 days have passed since ANY Democrat in Congress did ANYTHING to help us on the CPSIA. There are only 40 days left until Election Day.
The CPSC Commission pushed back the date to consider this “final” interpretative rule on “Children’s Products” for another week, to September 29th. These delays are unexplained. I guess we can’t be trusted to understand their debate. Too fancy for us? Perhaps too explosive. This Dem-dominated Commission DOES NOT WANT to initiate ANY new rulemaking processes. That makes it imperative to keep the final interpretative rule on “Children’s Products” very similar to the draft form – to avoid another comment period. Thus, they want to go with what they have, damn the consequences, to preserve their plan to be done with rulemaking by February 10, 2011, the date when the testing stay is set to expire.
Hope you have taken on board the pending expiration of the testing stay. You need to prepare – sell your business, close it, pile up the money to give to the testing companies or your lawyers, or your other creative plans to deal with it.
All kinds of things spin out of control for the Dems running the shop if they fall further behind in their schedule. The pending loss of their third vote (Moore’s term ends in a few days and he cannot serve beyond the end of the year) means they face stalemate and frustration soon if they aren’t done when he goes. To prevent you the voter from running “their” agency, they need to finish their dirty work NOW.
If things don’t work out as planned, I am sure you are prepared to coach the Dems on how to deal with frustration and stalemate. By now you should be an expert!
The delay in taking this rule to “final” signals a real and profound disagreement within the agency. Somebody’s agenda is going to get dented. So far, they haven’t found a way out of this paper bag.
Based on their track record, whatever they decide, you’ll be the loser. And no one will be the winner, either.
November 2nd can’t come too soon for me.
May 18, 2010 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
I have previously reported that my study of reported lead recalls over the past 11 years shows that there has been ONE reported death, the widely-discussed Jarnell Brown who died after swallowing a lead jewelry charm in Minnesota. This single death, plus three injuries, is the entire database of injuries reported by the CPSC from lead and lead-in-paint in the past 11 years. That’s it.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that data from the EPA sets the economic “value” of a human life at $6.1 million. Whether that number is high or low, it’s a good placeholder for an economic analysis of the CPSIA. [The EPA originally set this figure for an economic analysis of one of its rules.] According to federal rules governing regulations issued by the EPA, the benefits of a regulation must outweigh its costs. Therefore, as the NYT reports, if you save one life (worth $6.1 million) with a new regulation that imposes a compliance cost of $8 million, the regulation is illegal and must be withdrawn.
I wonder if this analysis would give us any insights into the CPSIA. . . .
Another relevant data point from the NYT article is that one IQ point lost to lead poisoning is worth $8,346 over a lifetime. That’s a real figure – think of the cost and disruption imposed on the children’s product industry to avoid the POSSIBILITY of the loss of an IQ point. Consider that the CPSC has reported three injuries from lead-in-paint in 11 years – that’s 3 x $8,346 = $25,038 in “damages” in lost IQ points or a little over $2,200 per year.
Even this miniscule cost is conjectural as I am simply not aware of a single, PROVEN case of lead poisoning from a children’s product. The victims assert a link between their (often undocumented) lead poisoning and the offending children’s product – but the causal link is rarely if ever challenged or conclusively verified. Even the consequences of the (asserted) lead poisoning is itself conjectural – although I am not defending lead poisoning. It is not certain, however, that lead poisoning always leads to long term problems or diminished capacity. [This issue gives fresh perspective on the recent policy of the CPSC to recall ALL lead-in-paint violations, a strict liability standard. This almost certainly violates the "substantial product hazard" standard that governs the ability of the CPSC to issue recalls as a matter of law. CPSC leadership should be held accountable for this change in policy in violation of the "substantial product hazard" statutory standard.]
On the basis of this very doubtful data, my entire industry has been trashed.
Let’s do the math on the CPSIA: In 11 years, one death ($6.1 million) and three IQ points ($25,000) = total cost $6.1 million. On other side of the ledger, the HTA estimates that the ANNUAL cost to test products for compliance with the CPSIA is $5.63 billion. The all-in cost is probably higher by a factor of 2-3x, but the HTA number is fine for illustration purposes. At this rate, ignoring the likely impact of inflation, the 11-year projected cost to comply with the CPSIA would be not less than $61.9 BILLION.
Spend $61.9 billion, save $6.1 million. In other words, thanks to the wondrous CPSIA, Americans spend $1,000 on “safety” to save a buck in injury costs. This is the legislative scheme that your Congressional Dem leaders have been fighting tooth-and-nail to preserve intact for the last two years.
The Dems want you to spend $1,000 to save a dollar. They won’t give an inch and have stubbornly refused to listen to reason for two years. The illegality and remarkable fiscal irresponsibility of this regulatory scheme doesn’t impress them. They tell us there’s no safe level for lead . . . but the real danger appears to be that there is no safe level of Democrats in our government.
November, November. Mr. Waxman, go ahead and fiddle while Rome burns. We’ll see you and your colleagues in the voting booth.
December 28, 2009 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
In a wonderful Op-Ed last week, Windsor Mann lampoons the ridiculous CPSIA by announcing his intent to not give any presents this year. His plan is as simple as the subtitle of his essay: “Giving children what they need most – nothing”. Mr. Mann expands: “As someone who loves to be a wonderful person for a brief period of time, I enjoy this season of temporary giving. I am obsessed with helping people, especially children, and the best way to help children is by not giving them Christmas presents.”
Sadly, Mr. Mann observes that “toys are not something to play around with”, noting the recent recall of toy darts because an 8-year-old almost choked on a dart that he was chewing. This is a real case. [This recall is eerily similar to a life-imitates-art spoof on The Onion entitled "Fun Toy Banned Because Of Three Stupid Dead Kids".]
Mr. Mann recounts in hilarious fashion various recent recalls illustrating the fact that we seem to have lost sight of what constitutes safety. [He even mentions the unfortunate Timberland ankle-high boots recalled for the lead-in-paint logo on their insoles.] To make his point, Mr. Mann notes the useful instructions provided by the CPSC in its “The Super Sitter” manual for babysitters. Here’s some tips the government felt the need to give babysitters:
• “Keep the youngsters safe by preventing accidents.”
• “Running or horseplay on [stairs] can lead to falls.”
• “In the event of accidental choking, apply first aid measures to clear the child’s airway.”
He quips: “(In the event of intentional choking, do not apply first aid measures.)”
The fear of everything, railed at in this essay, is the philosophical underpinning of the misconceived CPSIA. There is no solution to this disease short of changing the law. In a world dominated by the fear of everything, nothing is safe and everything must be feared. Mr. Mann’s strategy of not giving gifts seems to be an appropriate response in this environment.
It’s a funny article, but it’s not a funny problem for those of us stubborn enough to remain in the children’s product market. I don’t know how it comes as a surprise to anyone that misuse of products or the absence of individual responsibility may result in injuries, but that plague has descended on our industries. The issues inherent in this shift away from common sense are many:
- Fear of liability creates a perception of COST that deters investment in products and markets. Random costs feed the fear.
- Unjustified fear of injury by consumers translates into lower sales or higher costs in making sales. Markets shrink. Consumer needs become difficult to meet.
- An atmosphere of fear affects regulators, who tend to recall more often and to assess more penalties (even if non-monetary) because it’s politically-expedient or follows the trend. In other words, it’s “safer” for regulators to err on the side of caution – but that cost is borne by somebody . . . businesspeople.
- Rules tighten illogically, diverting attention from real issues, increasing the cost of participating in the market. All parties suffer from the consequences of complexity, including regulators.
- Misallocation of resources (expending too much energy on unimportant things) leads eventually to true crisis, fueling the fire of the original proponents of the legislation. The obvious solution – even MORE government.
And the joke will be on you and on us, if we don’t do something about it. Mr. Mann takes a lighthearted swipe at the silliness of your Congress, but it’s really no laughing matter.
Read more here:
CPSIA – Are Toys Supposed To Be Fun Anymore?
October 16, 2009 by Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc.
Filed under BLOG, Featured Articles
One of my eagle-eyed friends noticed an article (or ad masquerading as an article) offering a new recall insurance product in Earnshaws in its most recent issue on page 36. The subject of recall insurance has been on everyone’s mind since passage of the CPSIA. The new law considerably increases the risk and expense exposure from recalls in a multiplicity of industries. Earnshaws caters to the apparel industry, but the issues are the same elsewhere in the children’s products marketplace. The insurance broker here is HUB International. For those of you in the toy business, you may be familiar with them from messages sent under the auspices of the TIA. HUB International is endorsed insurance broker to the TIA.
The Earnshaws “article” touches on some important points:
- “. . . with thousands – or in some cases millions – of units with an untold number of components and coatings, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that even the most careful company could inadvertently end up shipping goods that don’t comply [with the CPSIA]. The consequences of such an error would be costly and possibly catastrophic.”
- “HUB has developed the Children’s Apparel Recall Expense (C.A.R.E.) program to cover well-meaning wholesales, importers and distributors of children’s apparel and footwear. . . .”
- One happy customer noted: “We do not want to accept the risks of the threats we cannot control . . . .” [Emphasis added]
I particularly appreciate the tone of doom and regulatory randomness in this “article”. Of course we should all mortgage our houses to buy this insurance. As HUB notes, the consequences of an “inadvertent” error is “possibly catastrophic”. This point is not lost on their customer either, who notes that the risk cannot be controlled. Even “well-meaning” companies will be subject to this capricious fate. At least they can get insurance . . . . Ouch.
Hmmm, I wonder why the HUB customer thinks that CPSIA risks cannot be controlled. Could it be that Target was whacked with a $600,000 penalty for using reasonable QC procedures and meeting its standard of care, but nonetheless somehow failing to find a lead-in-paint violation in time. [Of course, they had passing test reports and turned themselves in as soon as they found the problem, but they're very nice in Minnesota. Nice, but $600K lighter now.] Could it be that Mattel paid for a massive recall, settled with California, settled with Arizona and 38 other states, paid a $2.3 million fine to the CPSC . . . AND still had to process and pay an extortionate class action settlement with plaintiffs attorneys to the tune of tens of millions of dollars – all for a violation that resulted in NO deaths and NO injuries? Nah, must be something else. . . .
So the ways to waste money on the awful CPSIA expands now to include Recall Insurance. Yet another reason for businesses to hang it up. And then, consumer advocates rejoice!, there will be fewer and fewer children’s product recalls to worry about – because there will be fewer and fewer children’s products available for purchase. What-a-country!
Read more here:
CPSIA – Recall Insurance Update
In today’s San Diego Business Journal, Lorie Zapf talks about the unintended consequences of the CPSIA. Here is the introduction:
Billions of dollars — billions — of perfectly safe toys, clothing, books, bikes, and other children’s products are being taken off store shelves and thrown away, small businesses have been forced to close their doors forever, nonprofits and charities are being hurt, jobs are being lost — all in the name of helping consumers.
In this Northfield News article we hear more about how CPSIA affects booksellers:
As if the worst economic crisis in 75 years wasn’t enough, Patty Austvold and other sellers of used books must now deal with over-zealous government regulators.
Austvold keeps shop for her family’s used bookstore, Bookfellows, in downtown Northfield. In shops like hers all over the country, proprietors pulled old children’s books off the shelves last month rather than risk the wrath of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and crippling lawsuits.
Austvold contacted area legislators; Congressman John Kline responded and said efforts are underway to change the law, but with the focus on larger budget issues he admitted it could be years before this gets another look.
To read the entire article, click here to go to the Northfield News website.
Also, very interesting quote from