kitchen table math, the sequel: Always worse than you think, Congressional version

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Always worse than you think, Congressional version

It's always worse than you think. CPSIA, that is. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress, is doing damage to vast swaths of childrens' fashion and toy industries as it mandates, among other things, outrageous new testing and tracking by manufacturers, retailers, and resellers to prove products are in line with overly stringent lower limits on lead levels, phthlates, and other chemicals.

The law is so poorly written that it's affecting non-childrens' products in all sorts of industries. Of course, it's mostly small businesses that can't afford to come into compliance. The educational products industry is filled with such small vendors. Here's a quote from one in an AP story:
But some small businesses, like American Educational Products in Fort Collins, Colo. — it sells classroom teaching aids like flash cards, animal models, globes and relief maps — say the testing and labeling costs are crippling to their operations even though their products are safe. They want the law amended to exempt products that present little or no risk to young children.

"The challenge as a small business is that I cannot do it all (the testing) immediately," said Michael Warring, president of AMEP. "I would have to spend a full year of revenue to test every product I sell."

Warring recently laid off four of his 70 employees. In his 15 years with AMEP, he has not had one safety recall or complaint about lead.

Even so, Warring says he is required to test samplings of all products he makes and sells for young children, which he said costs about $2,000 per product. The tracking labels will add another cost, he says, since they must be a permanent marking on each product.
Another industry hit hard is the scientific equipment industry. Here are some stories as they affect science classrooms.

From the Amend The CPSIA blog,
Heathrow designs and manufactures items for use by trained laboratory technicians. ... Heathrow directly employs 13 individuals in Vernon Hills, Illinois and 1 in Great Britain. Heathrow recently received a request from one of its U.S. customers to certify that its products meet the standards set forth in the CPSIA.

Why, you may ask, would a company that designs, and manufactures, products for use by trained laboratory technicians, in professional labs, be asked to certify that its products meet standards set forth in a law that deals with safety standards for children’s products? The answer is that..this particular customer of Heathrow sells the Heathrow product range into the middle school science classroom marketplace...Therefore, they think they need to have on file certification from their suppliers that these products meet the CPSIA standards...Our products are not designed for use by children... if products are not designed for use by children, they are not subject to the CPSIA. However, many companies are spooked by the fact that this law has mandatory $100,000 per occurrence fines and felony criminal sanctions. They do not want to go to jail for selling products that violate the CPSIA, nor can they afford to risk $100,000 per occurrence fines.

So, they will either get their certifications or drop the products. This means that our products will no longer be available for use by middle school science teachers (who apparently found a use for them in teaching biology, chemistry and other sciences)
This isn't the only manufacturer that won't be passing CPSIA test for its microscopes. The solder on microscope light bulbs fails the lead test too. So
no microscopes at all.

But that's okay, you probably wouldn't have had anything to look at anyway.
From here:
"First, Michael Warring of American Educational Products reports that a school opted to stop using AmEP's rocks to teach Earth Science and will instead rely on a POSTER... The continued ragging of consumer groups about "toxic toys" sullies the reputation of all good companies and their good products. In this case, rocks take on the "toxic" tag because they contain uncontrollable amounts of base elements found in nature.

It gets worse. Nearly all science kits could fall because of the lead in the insulation on the wires, as they did in the case of the Potato Clock.

From the above blog again:
"recently a manufacturer of the Potato Clock decided to test its version for compliance with the newfangled CPSIA. In their eager beaver-ness, they shot themselves in the foot, discovering (horrors) that the insulation on the product's potato wires contain trace amounts of lead over the arbitrary limits of CPSIA...

First, the company decided that since it now knew of the test failure, it had an immediate reporting obligation under CPSIA Section 15(b). In addition, they concluded they had an obligation to immediately stop sale, since continuing to sell would be another "knowing" violation - yes, kids, that's a felony with possible penalties of jail time and asset forfeiture (goodbye house and car!)...

The CPSC, apparently, upon receiving this (unwanted) 15(b) report concurred - yep, the wire insulation exceeds the standard, and yep, you have to stop sale. No recall was required by the CPSC BUT the company appears to have decided almost immediately that an informal recall was mandated. Why might they have decided such a thing? Well, perhaps they had a generalized fear of liability from dealers who might be sued for selling this "dangerous" device if it ever came to light that the product had impermissible lead in the wire insulation....

But the WORST part of this story, the most chilling, is the part about the wire insulation. The Potato Clock was recalled for having too much lead in the wire insulation. Why did it have lead in it at all? Wire insulation contains lead because it is recycled vinyl, probably recovered principally from scrap of other wire...

The real problem comes from the fact that the Potato Clock utilizes "ordinary" wire. Everyone and everything utilizes "ordinary" wire. No specially-coated wire is used in children's products and even if it were available, it would be too expensive for this kind of application. Potato Clocks should use "ordinary" wire. If ordinary wire will always fail the CPSIA standards because of its insulation, then everything using wire in schools can't be sold for use by children under 13 years of age. This means, among other things, no electricity education before the 7th grade in this country (and only for the 13 year olds in the room - the 12 year olds will have to leave the room until their birthday)."

On the bright side, at least it will end discovery learning.


TerriW said...

Oh, don't even get me started on this horrible thing. Of all of the potentially inflammatory things that the government has done since I have been a registered voter, this is the ONLY thing that I have actually contacted every one of my lawmakers about.

My generalized results: My House representative phone-answerer was way, way better at pretending to sound like he cared than the Senate phone-answerer, who was almost openly hostile. (I live in MN, so at the time, I only had one Senator.)

Allison said...

I'm in St. Paul. Sen. Klobuchar is one of the original sponsors/writers of the CPSIA.

So that's probably why her party was openly hostile.

rocky said...

I wonder if there is ordinary wire in all of those cell phones the kids seem to have ... :)

I shouldn't get my hopes up. Chemistry sets, geology displays, and microscopes will all have to go, but somehow they will change the law so the kids can keep their cell phones.