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CPSIA – Jockeying for Position over the Database

The Washington Post published the latest whitewash on the CPSC public database yesterday entitled “Publicly accessible product safety database hits House roadblock“. In this article, the Post allowed consumer group favorite Rachel Weintraub to publish her own spin of matters: “‘There’s a lot of support for the database, but we don’t know how the dynamic is ultimately going to play out,’ said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel for Consumer Federation of America. ‘This is really a last-ditch effort by manufacturers to hold on to this great situation they have right now, where information is not getting out to the public.’” [Emphasis added]

Of course, Rachel was simply borrowing a phrase from last week’s New York Times (“Emboldened by a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, manufacturers of toys and other children’s products are making a last-ditch effort to quash new safety regulations that they say are unfair or too onerous”). [Emphasis added] When you have a great phrase, why not use it over and over?!

What’s the truth? Does it even matter anymore? Jennifer Kerr of the Associated Press questions the purported (asserted) value of the database, noting:

“Anyone can submit a “report of harm” to the SaferProducts.gov database. They aren’t required to have first-hand knowledge of the alleged injury or potential defect that could lead to injury. . . . The U.S. government has a similar auto safety database, also available to consumers online, that describes people’s safety complaints in extraordinary detail. It is the government’s principal early warning system intended to alert federal investigators to signs of looming safety problems. Yet despite efforts by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to review consumer complaints before they’re memorialized in the government’s database, an AP review of 750,000 records last year found that the data included complaints about slick pavement during snow, inconsiderate mechanics, paint chips, sloshing gasoline during fill-ups, potholes, dim headlights, bright headlights, inaccurate dashboard clocks and windshield wipers that streak.” [Emphasis added]

This is just what we in the small business community need – a government-sponsored, funded and promoted accumulation of unqualified miscellaneous gripes about our products. Do you think the media will ever take an interest in this stuff? Nah . . . .

And lest we forget, a familiar criticism of the database is that accusations can take a long time to resolve . . . but once posted to the Internet, can never be truly expunged from the permanent record. The year-long DryMax diapers controversy, not to mention the trashing of Toyota braking systems, demonstrate the severe risk U.S. manufacturers and importers face under the database. Imagine the long term damage to those brands if the accusations (subsequently proven false) never died . . . . Notably, Wayne Morris of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers called the new database nothing better than a “blog” because of these design defects.

The Washington Post failed to mention this nuance. Rachel must have forgotten to point it out.

I think it’s also worth considering the gap in how the CPSC describes the purpose and function of the database. Thanks be to Congress, is it clear WHY we have this database? Cheryl Falvey, General Counsel of the CPSC, says it’s a “complaints” database, NOT a “causation” database. She is pinning her interpretation on the disclaimers all over the website that the information on the site has not been proven and may be wrong. In other words, the postings can’t be relied upon. They are only “complaints” under this view. Ms. Falvey used this reasoning to dismiss complaints about process raised by pesky last-ditch manufacturers at last week’s ICPHSO.

Of course, if the postings are really just “complaints”, why did the CPSC name the site “SaferProducts.gov”? Doesn’t sound like a complaint website, does it? A long time ago, I complained about the website name to the person who claims to have coined it. I did not win that one, obviously. The URL includes the media-friendly term “safer” and makes an inescapble connection to Ms. Tenenbaum’s famous remark on website trustworthiness: “Well, to all of you here today, I say don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, except what you read on Web sites that end in dot gov.”

I may not be the only one who thinks this, despite the website’s disclaimers.

This impression is reinforced by Chairman Tenenbaum’s own description of the ideal workings of the database in her keynote speech at last week’s ICPHSO: “I also envision the site empowering consumers to make independent decisions that further their own safety and the safety of their family. If a mom uses the search function on the site, sees a series of reports of harm about a product she bought for her child, and decides to take the product away from her child, while behind the scenes we are working to finalize a recall—that is a good thing in my opinion.

That sounds like a “causation” database, doesn’t it? The implication is that the mom can rely on the information (it must be true) and besides, doesn’t an injury “incident” mean that a recall is coming soon? My immediate concern is that Ms. Tenenbaum is right – unqualified and unverified complaints on SaferProducts.gov WILL induce consumers to take our products away from children – whether or not a recall is forthcoming. We also know that Ms. Falvey is right – no one knows if the complaints are true – but who will reimburse our losses when the government convinces our customers that the safest course of action is to stop using our product pending a decision that may never be forthcoming . . . because nothing’s wrong.

The Chairman is encouraging consumers to rely on this information – to draw conclusions on the likelihood of future injury. This is even more alarming, given that Ms. Tenenbaum said in Congressional testimony last week that the agency will likely post unverified or inaccurate information to the database. She knows that this information will be faulty. As she said in testimony, “that’s what the rub is”.

That’s the rub, indeed.

I am tired of the rub, indeed.

Read more here:
CPSIA – Jockeying for Position over the Database

CPSIA – Why Does The Press Push Bad Ideas?

Last week, Justin Pritchard of the Associated Press again pressed the point that glassware with lead in the enamel should be recalled. He expressed shock at the “stunning” news that the CPSC reconsidered its view that the glasses are subject to the noxious lead regulations of the CPSIA.

Why did Mr. Pritchard find this outcome “stunning”? After all, in response to a question about the risks involved in the glasses, Pritchard had this to say in a TV interview: “The [lead and cadmium] levels are low in the sense of . . . no one is going to touch this glass, put their hand to their mouth and fall ill. This is a low level over time concern.” If the glasses are a low risk, why would he expect a federal regulator to waste time or resources on them?

Even more remarkably, Pritchard knows that the McDonalds Shrek glasses were found to be non-toxic by the CPSC. He broke the McDonalds story. The Shrek glasses present precisely the same “issue”. He also knows lead is only restricted in children’s products and that enamel coatings containing lead are permitted explicitly in the law (16 CFR 1303.2(b)(1)). There is no evidence that the presence of lead in the enamel has ever injured anyone. Ever.

So why is Pritchard continuing to push a story that he knows is defective? This puts it kindly. Let’s rule out that he is seeking a Pulitzer or has an ill-motive. Why would he do this?

Of course, we know there is a bias in reporting and in investigating that favors reporting “bad news”. Good news is not really considered news at all (except on the sports page). The media’s incentive is to publish terrifying stories – it sells papers and banner ads, and it’s natural for Congress to push legislation to save us from poorly understood threats as an extension of this trend. But something else is at play, it turns out.

This subject is analyzed in an interesting article by Jonah Lehrer in this week’s New Yorker magazine entitled “The Truth Wears Off”. Lehrer tries to explain why replication of scientific studies tends to show declining results over time. This is quite unexpected given that scientific studies are subject to peer reviews and are often published by periodicals with their own high standards of review. Lehrer notes that in small studies, weird results can show up (such as a 1930′s study which claimed that one Duke University student had ESP but later retesting revealed the student’s rapidly diminishing extrasensory powers . . .). In larger pools of data, results revert to a mean (this is called “funneling”). However even statistical significance doesn’t explain the phenomenon. Lehrer shows that we only get to see certain slices of data. Most data won’t be published because it’s not interesting or doesn’t confirm prejudices.

Put into a CPSIA context, Lehrer implicitly argues that media won’t write a story announcing that lead-in-enamel on your glassware is safe. Nor that you were always fine and your children weren’t in danger. Nor that there have been few injuries from lead in any children’s products. Nor that the few known injuries in the context of the large volume of products in use is actually a GOOD result. Nor that there are no identified victims of “phthalate poisoning” or that incidents of cadmium poisoning in American children are virtually unknown. The excuse – it’s not “newsworthy”. What’s the reality?

The reality is that we are exposed to a very imbalanced set of data. Quoting Michael Jennions, a biologist at the Australian National University, Lehrer argues that “the tendency of scientists and scientific journals [is] to prefer positive data over null results, which is what happens when no effect is found.” If the null set (the “everything’s fine” news) doesn’t get reported, what does? Says Richard Palmer, a biologist at the University of Alberta, “We cannot escape the troubling conclusion that some – perhaps many – cherished generalities are at best exaggerated in their biological significance and at worst a collective illusion nurtured by strong a-priori beliefs often repeated.”

The same mantra over and over? The words “Rachel Weintraub” suddenly pop into my mind.

Lehrer continues: “[T]he problem seems to be one of subtle omissions and unconscious misperceptions, as researchers struggle to make sense of their results. Stephen Jay Gould referred to this as the ‘shoehorning’ process.” Referring to studies in Asia that consistently confirm that acupuncture is effective, and studies in the West that show much poorer results, “Palmer notes, this wide discrepancy suggests that scientists find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don’t want to see. Our beliefs are a form of blindness.”

Or to quote Robert Adler, anecdotes aren’t evidence.

John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford University who once published a study entitled “Why Most Published Research Findings are False”, calls the phenomenon “significance chasing” where scientists play with numbers trying to find “anything that seems worthy”. In a news context, this is the same as Pritchard fingering the Super Hero glasses on the grounds that there is lead in the enamel even though he knows the Shrek glasses were safe. Maybe these other glasses are a problem?! Jeff Plungis of Bloomberg published an article on lead in Christmas light wires on December 8th because he apparently thought it was “interesting” and not well-known. Same thing.

Ioannidis says “It feels good to validate a hypothesis. It feels even better when you’ve got a financial interest in the idea or your career depends on it. And that’s why even after a claim has been systematically disproved . . .you still see some stubborn researchers citing the first few studies that show a strong effect. They really want to believe that it’s true.” [Emphasis added]

Lehrer’s article is a great read, I recommend it to you.

So you can stop scratching your head. Pritchard and Plungis, Adler and Tenenbaum, Waxman and Schakowsky, Weintraub and Green, will all continue to beat the same drum. They know they’re right . . . they just can’t prove it. And they will continue to repeat themselves in spite of the facts of this case:

  • There are (virtually) no known victims.
  • The impact of the law cannot be measured.
  • The nexus between lead in children’s products and purported injury to children is not proven. This means that the inclusion in the law of so many formerly unregulated categories of goods is absolutely unjustified.
  • The benefits of prophylactic testing has been disproved by the passage of time – the last 29 months.
  • The law targets small business and lets big business off the hook. Even since passage of the CPSIA, it is clear from data that big business are responsible for headline recalls.

I guess the media keeps on publishing these stories because it’s human nature. Unfortunately, many jobs and many futures have been damaged in the service of a human weakness. I like to think we can rise about such limitations. It is in the hands of the CPSC and Congress to solve this problem.

Let’s hope they do their job . . . sometime really soon.

Read more here:
CPSIA – Why Does The Press Push Bad Ideas?

CPSIA – Why Does The Press Push Bad Ideas?

Last week, Justin Pritchard of the Associated Press again pressed the point that glassware with lead in the enamel should be recalled. He expressed shock at the “stunning” news that the CPSC reconsidered its view that the glasses are subject to the noxious lead regulations of the CPSIA.

Why did Mr. Pritchard find this outcome “stunning”? After all, in response to a question about the risks involved in the glasses, Pritchard had this to say in a TV interview: “The [lead and cadmium] levels are low in the sense of . . . no one is going to touch this glass, put their hand to their mouth and fall ill. This is a low level over time concern.” If the glasses are a low risk, why would he expect a federal regulator to waste time or resources on them?

Even more remarkably, Pritchard knows that the McDonalds Shrek glasses were found to be non-toxic by the CPSC. He broke the McDonalds story. The Shrek glasses present precisely the same “issue”. He also knows lead is only restricted in children’s products and that enamel coatings containing lead are permitted explicitly in the law (16 CFR 1303.2(b)(1)). There is no evidence that the presence of lead in the enamel has ever injured anyone. Ever.

So why is Pritchard continuing to push a story that he knows is defective? This puts it kindly. Let’s rule out that he is seeking a Pulitzer or has an ill-motive. Why would he do this?

Of course, we know there is a bias in reporting and in investigating that favors reporting “bad news”. Good news is not really considered news at all (except on the sports page). The media’s incentive is to publish terrifying stories – it sells papers and banner ads, and it’s natural for Congress to push legislation to save us from poorly understood threats as an extension of this trend. But something else is at play, it turns out.

This subject is analyzed in an interesting article by Jonah Lehrer in this week’s New Yorker magazine entitled “The Truth Wears Off”. Lehrer tries to explain why replication of scientific studies tends to show declining results over time. This is quite unexpected given that scientific studies are subject to peer reviews and are often published by periodicals with their own high standards of review. Lehrer notes that in small studies, weird results can show up (such as a 1930′s study which claimed that one Duke University student had ESP but later retesting revealed the student’s rapidly diminishing extrasensory powers . . .). In larger pools of data, results revert to a mean (this is called “funneling”). However even statistical significance doesn’t explain the phenomenon. Lehrer shows that we only get to see certain slices of data. Most data won’t be published because it’s not interesting or doesn’t confirm prejudices.

Put into a CPSIA context, Lehrer implicitly argues that media won’t write a story announcing that lead-in-enamel on your glassware is safe. Nor that you were always fine and your children weren’t in danger. Nor that there have been few injuries from lead in any children’s products. Nor that the few known injuries in the context of the large volume of products in use is actually a GOOD result. Nor that there are no identified victims of “phthalate poisoning” or that incidents of cadmium poisoning in American children are virtually unknown. The excuse – it’s not “newsworthy”. What’s the reality?

The reality is that we are exposed to a very imbalanced set of data. Quoting Michael Jennions, a biologist at the Australian National University, Lehrer argues that “the tendency of scientists and scientific journals [is] to prefer positive data over null results, which is what happens when no effect is found.” If the null set (the “everything’s fine” news) doesn’t get reported, what does? Says Richard Palmer, a biologist at the University of Alberta, “We cannot escape the troubling conclusion that some – perhaps many – cherished generalities are at best exaggerated in their biological significance and at worst a collective illusion nurtured by strong a-priori beliefs often repeated.”

The same mantra over and over? The words “Rachel Weintraub” suddenly pop into my mind.

Lehrer continues: “[T]he problem seems to be one of subtle omissions and unconscious misperceptions, as researchers struggle to make sense of their results. Stephen Jay Gould referred to this as the ‘shoehorning’ process.” Referring to studies in Asia that consistently confirm that acupuncture is effective, and studies in the West that show much poorer results, “Palmer notes, this wide discrepancy suggests that scientists find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don’t want to see. Our beliefs are a form of blindness.”

Or to quote Robert Adler, anecdotes aren’t evidence.

John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford University who once published a study entitled “Why Most Published Research Findings are False”, calls the phenomenon “significance chasing” where scientists play with numbers trying to find “anything that seems worthy”. In a news context, this is the same as Pritchard fingering the Super Hero glasses on the grounds that there is lead in the enamel even though he knows the Shrek glasses were safe. Maybe these other glasses are a problem?! Jeff Plungis of Bloomberg published an article on lead in Christmas light wires on December 8th because he apparently thought it was “interesting” and not well-known. Same thing.

Ioannidis says “It feels good to validate a hypothesis. It feels even better when you’ve got a financial interest in the idea or your career depends on it. And that’s why even after a claim has been systematically disproved . . .you still see some stubborn researchers citing the first few studies that show a strong effect. They really want to believe that it’s true.” [Emphasis added]

Lehrer’s article is a great read, I recommend it to you.

So you can stop scratching your head. Pritchard and Plungis, Adler and Tenenbaum, Waxman and Schakowsky, Weintraub and Green, will all continue to beat the same drum. They know they’re right . . . they just can’t prove it. And they will continue to repeat themselves in spite of the facts of this case:

  • There are (virtually) no known victims.
  • The impact of the law cannot be measured.
  • The nexus between lead in children’s products and purported injury to children is not proven. This means that the inclusion in the law of so many formerly unregulated categories of goods is absolutely unjustified.
  • The benefits of prophylactic testing has been disproved by the passage of time – the last 29 months.
  • The law targets small business and lets big business off the hook. Even since passage of the CPSIA, it is clear from data that big business are responsible for headline recalls.

I guess the media keeps on publishing these stories because it’s human nature. Unfortunately, many jobs and many futures have been damaged in the service of a human weakness. I like to think we can rise about such limitations. It is in the hands of the CPSC and Congress to solve this problem.

Let’s hope they do their job . . . sometime really soon.

Read more here:
CPSIA – Why Does The Press Push Bad Ideas?

CPSIA – Recall the CPSC

778 days have passed since ANY Democrat in Congress did ANYTHING to help us on the CPSIA. There are only 32 days left until Election Day.

In a remarkable demonstration of the anti-business bias of the current CPSC, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum took to the air today to bash toys and to take our old friend Mattel to task for four recalls of more than eleven million units.

Uh-oh, Mattel’s at it again. Hope this doesn’t mean it’s time for another CPSIA. It is Election time, after all.

Some background:

The CPSC Commission hosed us on Wednesday with its decision on the definition of “Children’s Products”. [Here is the approved definition (link to follow).] I will write about this in the next few days. In typical Tenenbaum fashion, rather than face intense and negative media attention on the bungled decision in which the agency knowingly effectively banned hands-on science education in the United States (see The New York Times and Associated Press on this issue), announced several high profile recalls and a scary “warning” about popular but apparently deadly infant products to distract the media and possibly you, too.

The four recalls and the warning are each prominently displayed on the CPSC website. Each was announced by press release so as to garner maximum attention. The new definition of “Children’s Products” was not announced, although there are two Commissioner’s Statements currently up on the website (Adler and Nord; Northup’s is done but the link isn’t up yet – here is her blog on the topic). The draft of the new rule is nowhere to be found on the CPSC website. There was no press release for the decision and no reference to the decision on the website other than the buried statements of the two (warring) Commissioners. Hmmm.

Probably just a little oversight, right Scott??? More on this later.

The five matters released to distract you were:

a. A warning to stop using Infant positioners in cribs. Twelve babies died in 13 years.

b. Fisher-Price recall of 2.925 million inflatables for choking hazard. Sold over NINE YEARS, 14 small parts found in kids’ mouths, three kids were “beginning to choke”, no injuries.

c. Fisher-Price recall of 1.075 million high chairs for laceration risk. Sold over NINE YEARS, seven injuries requiring stitches and one “tooth injury”.

d. Fisher-Price recall of 120,000 “Wheelies” for choking hazard. Each set includes four cars, so the universe of affected “Wheelies” is actually 480,000. Two broken toys discovered among the half million out in the marketplace (wheels fell off). No injuries.

e. Fisher-Price recall of 7.15 million Children’s Tricycles for risk of “serious injury”. Sold over FOURTEEN YEARS, ten injuries with six requiring medical attention (cuts).

Interestingly, when these recalls were brought to my attention this morning, the CPSC website simply listed the four Fisher-Price recalls as it normally does for recalls. However, by midday the marketing of the “crisis” had begun with a screaming headline in large print on the home page reading “Fisher-Price Recalls More than 10 Million Products“. No doubt the presentation was changed as a public service (these products are sooooo dangerous) . . . . The link under the headline leads to a blogpost about the four “grisly” recalls noting the following “information”:

“Fisher-Price did the right thing in agreeing to provide consumers with free remedies for these products. But all companies must do better. They must give more attention to building safety into their products. They must work to ensure that they are adhering to safety standards. And if any company finds itself with a defective product or one that is causing injuries, it must report the problem to CPSC immediately. Meanwhile, as moms, dads and caregivers, you, too, have a role. We thank the dozens of you who reported these incidents. Thanks to you, CPSC was able to investigate, work with Fisher-Price on a remedy and recall these products. If a toy breaks in your child’s hands or if your child suffers an injury from a product, tell us so that we can investigate. And if you own one of these recalled products, stop using it and contact Fisher-Price for free repair kits and replacement products.” [Emphasis added]

Is this about Fisher-Price (Mattel) or about you and me? Did we do something wrong? Apparently we must have. We were spanked in this blogpost. Was it a “teachable moment” for you? Was it as good for you as it was for me?

There is so much more to say about this:

1. I find it shocking that the CPSC would so shamelessly try to cover its tracks on the approval of the final “Children’s Product” definition. It’s not only an embarrassment to the agency, but it’s an insult to your intelligence. How this reflects the agency’s view of the media, I will leave it to you to divine. It ain’t a compliment.

2. Inez Tenenbaum went on TV today to stoke fear of toys. She did this on what is essentially the kick-off day for the Xmas toy season, September 30. Yes, our government sent its top official on national TV to scare the crap out of consumers and to warn them not to trust the companies making toys right as they were going out to the store to buy Xmas presents. This is a Barack Obama stimulus plan in action! Thanks for ALL the help, guys. Doin’ the Lord’s work every day . . . .

Here are a few quotes from Tenenbaum’s ABC News interview:

ABC: “It’s a major recall involving four different products.”
ABC: [Re High Chairs] “The problem with the high chair, I understand, is these pegs. What’s the problem there?”
Tenenbaum: “There pegs stick out and children have fallen on these pegs. Several have been injured and seven have required stitches.”

[Tenenbaum smirks as she neglects to advise that the seven injuries requiring stitches took place over NINE YEARS and were all minor injuries.]

ABC: [Re Trikes] “The hazard is a fake key that protrudes from the bike frame.”
Tenenbaum: “These tricycles have this key which sticks up and little girls have jumped on this key and have had serious cuts.”
ABC: “Serious injuries.”
Tenenbaum: “Serious injuries.”

[Another minor omission - Tenenbaum neglects to mention that the six injuries requiring medical attention affected six children among more than seven million users, took place over 14 years and involved toddlers that were supposed to be under parental supervision. Do you think she was helpful enough to the ambitious reporter who wanted a scary story? At least she took the hint and characterized the injuries as "serious injuries".]

. . . .

ABC: “There’s a message in this for all manufacturers.”
Tenenbaum: “Manufacturers need to build safety into the product from the very beginning so that we don’t have to recall on the back end.” [Emphasis added]

[This is my Xmas gift from Tenenbaum. Mattel is the cause of this, and it's Mattel that screwed up if ANYONE screwed up. Still, Ms. Tenenbaum can't miss the opportunity to use TV to tell MY customers to not trust ME. Thanks so much. And this Administration is MYSTIFIED about why we can't get our job market going again. I'm stumped, too. . . .]

ABC: “In a statement this morning, Fisher-Price said it wanted to reassure parents that its products are ‘overwhelmingly safe’. But if you have any of THESE products, you SHOULD call the company. They will offer a fix for some of them . . . others will be replaced outright.” [Emphasis added]

[Lest anyone mistake this for yet another idiotic and reactive series of recalls, ABC tries to portray Mattel as untrustworthy with the quote about the overwhelming safety of the 11 million recalled toys . . . then tells you to get them out of your house pronto.]

3. The Wall Street Journal was able to put a happy face on this sorry episode. Mattel’s 2010 earnings will only shrink by a penny a share because of the massive recalls. Anyone want to organize a telethon to help out a buddy in distress? How will Mattel make up that penny? Oh, the horror of it. . . .

4. I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that Mattel has succeeded in certifying about ten of its corporate labs to test its products. I call on the CPSC to release the Mattel test reports behind these recalled items. I can’t wait to see the first recall of a Mattel item tested in a CPSC-certified Mattel lab. You’ll never know about it, because the CPSC and Mattel will move heaven and earth to keep you from finding out.

5. The recall of the Mattel “Wheelies” will be known as the original “broken toy standard” recall. Please consider the ominous nature of this development. The Mattel toy cars were reported by eager and enthusiastic consumers because they found a broken toy. The CPSC is calling for this kind of “help” so you can expect a LOT more of this in the future. To be precise, two broken toys were found in this case. No one was hurt. No allegation has been made public that any child was even possibly in danger. No disclosure was made about how the toys broke.

The CPSC apparently intervened to “investigate”. These investigations often begin with a warning to the manufactuerer – you can participate in the CPSC’s Fast Track Voluntary Recall program and avoid a formal investigation and possible penalty, or you can take your chances on what determination we will make months or years later. This kind “offer” is generally a short-lived one, possibly allowing only a few hours to decide. [This dirty secret is certainly true - ask around . . . or wait for the call.] The facts may be just like this one – a broken toy has been discovered (horrors), do you want to recall (today)? Mattel decided to recall in the case of the “Wheelies”, based on two broken toys and perhaps on a conversation with the kind folks at the CPSC.

Do you get this one? If a consumer reports a single broken toy to the CPSC, the agency may investigate you and you may be forced to recall the item immediately. No injuries are required, just the POSSIBILITY of injury. Do you see ANY problems with that standard? Do you think the possibility of injury is the same as the certainty of injury??? Are your products indestructible? Is this a standard for recalls you are prepared to meet? And how do you plan to blunt this regulatory attack?

Having fun yet?

You heard it here first. The “broken toy” standard – that’s the rule now. I’m not kidding.

For those of us idiots who persist in making children’s products, these recalls are chilling, particularly in light of the decision on “Children’s Products”. The CPSC is busily engaged in shrinking our market through scare tactics and reactive regulation of the markets. They are also building barriers to entry that protect mass market companies and ensure the demise of small business. How many of you can withstand the cost, damage and disruption of a 11 million piece recall? None of you. This will cost Mattel ONE PENNY. Aw, poor Mattel. Who will be left to compete with them? Hasbro. And you? You’re screwed. The CPSC doesn’t even bother with lip service on this one anymore.

The new definition of what constitutes a ” substantial product hazard” under the CPSA is now . . . everything. Anything that might possibly cause injuries is implicitly an “imminent threat” and must be recalled. There is no defense to the possibility of injury. Heaven forbid that there may have been injuries of any kind. Then you are dead. You’ll find out your penalties in a few years but right now, the recalls must proceed. Doesn’t matter what percentage of the items cause injury. Doesn’t matter how many years it took to accumulate the injuries. Doesn’t matter if the consumer was at fault or if there was dereliction of duty on the part of adults. The company is always at fault.

We are aiming for a Utopian society now, guys. Do you doubt this? Read this article carefully from the top a second time. The message is clear: Manufacturers, get out of Dodge, unless you are Mattel.

RECALL THE CPSC! This madness will kill us all. This is all about a mania and political leadership hired to foment this change in approach. There is little reason to believe these people will change – it’s time to start over.

Read more here:
CPSIA – Recall the CPSC

GUEST BLOG – Bruce Lund, Lund and Company Invention, L.L.C. on the Cadmium "Crisis"

When we put the call out for Guest Bloggers a couple of weeks ago, we received this post from toy designer and inventor Bruce Lund. While he originally posted it on his own blog several months ago, it’s still relevant today.

Cadmium in Children’s Jewelry

By Bruce Lund

Knee jerk responses, ill considered opinions, and unsupported positions based on hearsay or questionable sources are all what led to the CPSIA legislative insanity that continues to grind on and grind up small companies with regulations that are expensive, onerous, and simply wrongheaded. Although well intentioned, the results are not those intended.

On the issue of cadmium levels in children’s jewelry, something which has always been in jewelry of all kinds, and has never been identified as a health risk, the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned against allowing children to play with inexpensive jewelry. That, along with state level legislation may well remove jewelry for kids from the marketplace altogether – all without any science and . . .
“without the benefit of a review of the test data, which AP and its testing partner have not made public or shared with the companies whose products are named in the story. The CPSC subsequently issued a recall for one jewelry item with “high levels of cadmium,” but also did not share data – even with the company itself.”
(quoted from the Alliance for Children’s Product Safety and CPSIA, and to view previous “Casualties of the Week,” visit AmendTheCPSIA.com)

Were cadmium to be a health problem, it would have manifested itself as kidney disease, which is virtually unknown in children. The result is the toy industry and other related industries being ruled on and regulated on the basis of unsubstantiated claims in the media and politicians’ knee jerk legislation, not on the basis of fact, scientific risk analysis, or sound judgment.

That almost sounds like craziness to me. Where is the voice of reason? Could it even be heard over the din of today’s media-saturated world?

Blog post by Bruce Lund, Founder, Lund and Company Invention, L.L.C.

Bruce’s blog can be found here. The blog above was originally posted here on March 30, 2010.


Posted by the Staff of the Alliance for Children’s Product Safety

Read more here:
GUEST BLOG – Bruce Lund, Lund and Company Invention, L.L.C. on the Cadmium "Crisis"

CPSIA – Consumer Groups are Grasping at Straws

Last week, in their usual pre-Xmas slanderfest, the full range of consumer groups unleashed their annual list of bad and dangerous toy lists on a pandering media. The pickin’s were slim this year, but that didn’t stop them.

I have heard from friends outside the toy industry who expressed horror and disbelief at these widely-publicized attacks. Toy industry insiders are used to it, frankly. Actually, speaking candidly, some of these annual efforts are useful and appreciated. I think that bad products (generally reflecting poor judgment, nothing more venal than that) have been usefully exposed by these groups in the past. However, of late the consumer groups have been obsessed by “toxics” – pushing the notion that toys are poisonous, rather than simply irresponsibly-designed. I think the reason is simple – the media and reactive politicians respond to this accusation, so why give up a “good thing”? You have to wonder if their goal is to simply make toys safer. Their attacks are remain more vicious than in the past and much more pointed.

The consumer group continue to package the idea that consumers do not realize that “no government agency tests toys before they are put on the shelves.” This self-declared “fact” is an essential justification of their “precautionary principle” – that is, we need an activist government approving everything before you get your hands on it. President Obama’s assertion on Late Night with David Letterman that we need a lot more government these days is right in line with the precautionary principle. Others call this movement the Nanny State.

The precautionary principle holds that no risk is too small to address – in advance. Thus, the neurosis underlying the assertion that Americans think the government must be “testing” toys before they are sold is the same as Consumer Union’s David Pittle’s admission in the TSCP hearing (beginning at about 90 minutes in the video) that he is “nervous” when he buys a toy (not sure what or whom to trust), and ergo, his rules for how manufacturers run their businesses must be imposed. Mr. Pittle’s demands seem designed to relieve his anxieties, rather than improve safety. [He might contend that it is one and the same but I disagree.] Inciting terror through various means, the consumer groups place a real emphasis on how consumers FEEL and whether products and their manufacturers have earned consumer confidence (an emotional standard), not whether (objectively or actually), the products are actually safe.

Perhaps your mother told you once that it is hard to control how others feel – you can only control what you do and how you do it. Maybe she should be running Congress . . . .

In any event, the number of offending children’s products uncovered this year by the consumer groups is rather meagre. As previously noted, Center for Environmental Health (CEH) drummed up seven items after six weeks of testing on 250 items. The CEH rogue’s gallery featured NO soluble lead in toys, but did feature one pair of shoes with lead in the soles . . . a pair of sandals with lead in the insole . . . a trinket with a bad connector link . . . a poncho with lead in the vinyl material, etc. And now the PIRGs have joined in the fun. The annual Trouble in Toyland report was issued this week by national PIRG and the equally hyperbolic Illinois PIRG issued its own “Chemical Compliance: Testing for Toxics in Children’s Products” report. [I am only focusing on lead and phthalates in these reports.] The PIRG “bounty”: a zipper “pull” and a yellow cow with lead-in-paint, one piece of lead jewelry, and two toys with phthalates (one an “unidentified” phthalate that might not be illegal, and the other just slightly over the limit). Illinois PIRG found only a small handful of violative products: only six of 87 products tested positive for violative lead levels using XRF guns, winnowing down to three items when tested by an independent lab.

Illinois PIRG failed to find lead or phthalates in the items featured in this TV segment. Unfortunately, that makes bad TV, so the head of Illinois PIRG lowered the standard to create something new to worry about (watch from 1:00 for 30 seconds in the video): “Most of the toys PIRG bought at target came up clean. But three of the toys had small amounts of lead — MUCH LESS THAN the current safety standard but enough for the gun to detect. ‘Really, children shouldn’t be exposed to lead at all,’ said [Brian] Imus.” [Emphasis added]

An implication of the 2009 reports is that the onerous new CPSIA lead standards are simply not tough enough. For instance, PIRG says “Regulations should simply ban lead except at trace amounts (90-100 ppm), whether in paint, coatings or any toys, jewelry or other products for use by children under 12 years old.” Where did this come from? Some ideas:

  • They are laying the groundwork for the August 2011 determination by the CPSC about implementing a 100 ppm lead limit. To do so, the agency must conclude that it is “technologically feasible” as defined in the CPSIA.
  • The groups are desperate to make their work seem relevant and constructive.
  • They are confused or want to confuse consumers about HOW lead harms children, ignoring, covering up or blurring important distinctions between bio-available lead and inaccessible lead.

The latter point is so critical to understand. Lead can only harm a child if it gets into the bloodstream. Notably, lead is present throughout the environment (lead is found in at least 40 ppm concentrations in dirt, unless you are referring to the Obama’s vegetable garden which has lead in concentrations of 93 ppm). Lead is in our food, drink and air, so kids consume it all the time. Apparently, lead in certain amounts must not be a problem, or else we would all have suffered reduced IQs (no comment in my case). The lead that should concern us is soluble lead, as in lead-in-paint and in jewelry, because it can easily get into the bloodstream. In any event, PIRG knows that toys and children’s products aren’t the problem. In their report, they cite a 2005 article (“Lead Exposure in Children: Prevention, Detection and Management,” Pediatrics, 1036-1048 (October 2005)) which makes clear that the problem with childhood blood lead levels is in lead-in-paint used in housing. There is NO mention anywhere that I can find where academic studies blame national blood lead levels on toys, etc., and likewise, I find all credit for lowering blood lead levels is given to efforts to rid the world of lead-in-paint in housing. Period.

So why does PIRG and its brethren continue to flog the notion that lead in all manifestations is dangerous? And why are they now saying that ANY lead, even below the draconian levels in the current law, is dangerous to children’s health?

Questions worth pondering.

Finally, not content to blur the lines on lead, PIRG also recommends that the phthalates ban be extended: “CPSC should ban phthalates in toys and other products intended for children under five and work with the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that toys labeled ‘phthalate-free’ do not contain phthalates.” So apparently PIRG wants ALL phthalates eliminated from toys, no matter the absence of science behind their new manic fear. Even more importantly, they apparently concede that the blanket ban on six phthalates for toys intended for children 6-12 is excessive and damaging. At least that’s a positive contribution!

So another Xmas toy bashing seems to be behind us. The pseudo-science underlying the consumer groups’ attacks on children’s products was again exposed, as was the basic integrity and safety of the marketplace. Does that do us any good? That remains to be seen. Perhaps the leadership at the CPSC will tire of this relentless war (which is eroding their professional reputations) and do something to get Congress to fix a truly defective and damaging law. Let’s hope so.

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CPSIA – Consumer Groups are Grasping at Straws

CPSIA – Consumer Group LIES

The propaganda machine of the consumer groups grinds on, even as the screams of dying businesses echo in the media and in the blogosphere. In a recent email to a Handmade Toy Alliance member, a WashPIRG Consumer Advocate (Seattle, Washington) made the following remarks: “Thank you for your e-mail! While my primary concern is keeping toxics substances out of toys and other consumer products, I share your concern about how this new law impacts the viability of small businesses. As with most laws written by Congress, the CPSIA allows the agency enforcing new regulations to flesh out how the law will be implemented. In this case, the Consumer Product Safety Commission can, and indeed has, written reasonable exemptions for certain products. Clothes, wood products, and books have been exempted and non-toxic pre-approved dyes for children’s products will be on the market soon, which should preempt the need for testing. To be blunt, I’m not impressed with some of the statements made by the Handmade Toy Alliance over the past year. Just as an example, they’ve grossly overestimated the average cost of toy testing on several occasions. The $300 – $4,000 fee per toy figure is, quite frankly, exaggerated. The average cost per toy test is often as low as $75. Moreover, toy manufacturers won’t be required to purchase testing guns, but can instead contract out to existing testing services who, in most cases, charge much lower rates than those quoted by the Alliance.” I see. Again, we are being victimized by business prognosticating by people who have never worked for a business and have never made a product. Let’s count the lies and misinformation: a. “. . . the CPSIA allows the agency enforcing new regulations to flesh out how the law will be implemented. In this case, the Consumer Product Safety Commission can, and indeed has, written reasonable exemptions for certain products.” This baloney has been hashed over endlessly in this space and is a well-documented lie. Chairman Tenenbaum and Commissioners Nord and Moore, among others, have repeatedly bemoaned their utter lack of flexibility in making decisions under the CPSIA. The absurd rules of the CPSIA has forced the CPSC to confirm the illegality of ATVs, bicycles, ballpoint pens and rhinestones and has caused companies selling rocks and fossils to test them for sharp point and the presence of lead. The fact that they have exempted cotton cloth from lead testing is not the same as liberating the apparel industry, nor does it exempt those products from the burdensome tracking labels requirement or any of the other extreme provisions of this law. b. “Clothes, wood products, and books have been exempted and non-toxic pre-approved dyes for children’s products will be on the market soon, which should preempt the need for testing.” As previously noted , the phthalates testing standard requires testing on anything that “conceivably” could have phthalates in them, including natural wood and cloth, among other things. In addition, clothing will only avoid testing for lead if they have NO components which are subject to testing. This means no appliques, grommets, buttons and so on. The only wood products that will avoid lead testing are products made of pure, untreated natural wood. Not exactly a truck-sized hole to drive through. Finally, the component testing rule, which is more than a year in preparation, is unlikely to solve all the testing problems in the market. The ones that will be solved are easy ones, like button testing. In any event, I have never been convinced that a jumbled mass of product testing reports will satisfy the market in a post-CPSIA environment. You would be BLOWN AWAY by the testing and certification requests we get on a daily basis. The testing mania is a boat that left the harbor on August 14, 2008, and unless Congress gets this back under control, it seems utterly hopeless to me. c. THE BIG LIE : “To be blunt, I’m not impressed with some of the statements made by the Handmade Toy Alliance over the past year. Just as an example, they’ve grossly overestimated the average cost of toy testing on several occasions. The $300 – $4,000 fee per toy figure is, quite frankly, exaggerated. The average cost per toy test is often as low as $75. Moreover, toy manufacturers won’t be required to purchase testing guns, but can instead contract out to existing testing services who, in most cases, charge much lower rates than those quoted by the Alliance.” Okay, Mr. PIRG, here are a few representative testing reports . Please show me the test report that costs $75. This lie is laughably ridiculous. We have been aggressively testing our products for 20 years and to my knowledge, have NEVER paid $75 for a safety test. Perhaps one line on an invoice is $75, but clearly that won’t do it. Unfortunately, the PIRGs of the world have a very gullible Congress in the palm of their hand. Congress seems quite susceptible to the Big Lie. As long as Congress will accept nonsense as fact, and as long as the CPSC continues to willingly implement the toxic CPSIA as though nothing were wrong, we are doomed. It won’t matter if the PIRGs are telling the Big Lie. We won’t be here to argue about it anymore.

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CPSIA – Consumer Group LIES

Start Weightlifting, These Letters are Heavy

March 25, 2009 by Dana  
Filed under Letters to Congress, Rally Archive

When Representative Dingell posted his letter to Acting Chair Nancy Nord and Commissioner Thomas Moore, there was a collective sigh of relief that someone not only asked such pointed questions, but also asked for a response. Yes, bills had been submitted to both the House and the Senate, but they were languishing and we needed to maintain our momentum in order to keep this issue top of mind in Congress.

And where many of us viewed these letters as correspondences only between these three individuals and not intended for interaction, Rick Woldenberg saw it as our opportunity.

What was a simple post and a simple request – respond to Dingell’s letter with your own answers to his questions – became an outpouring of letters that would require hundreds of pages of paper in order to hand-deliver them to Representative Dingell.

Many of these letters are included on this site, but they could not be reproduced in their entirety because of their sheer volume.

If you would like a copy of these letters in full for background research on your story, please send your request to webcontent@amendthecpsia.com. They tell a gripping story of micro, small, and large businesses affected by CPSIA.