Tuesday, June 19, 2007

PB kids, and I'm not talkin' Pottery Barn here

I read an alarming article today in the NYTimes about the case of the Consumer Product Safety Board (CPSB)-- the government group that's supposed to make sure that consumer products are, well, as the name suggests, SAFE for consumer use.

Now, anyone who has kids can tell you the pandemonium that has broken out amongst parents about the latest recall action of twenty-some-odd Thomas the Tank Engine pieces. They can probably tell you which pieces are affected and why: Lead (chemical symbol Pb) found in the red and yellow paint.

What most of these parents don't know, however, is that despite the fact that recalls of consumer items (and, scarily enough, many many toys) has seen a huge increase in the past years, the CPSB is actually less and less able to do its job because of cuts in funding. Witness this:

In the last two years, the staff of the consumer product commission has been cut by more than 10 percent, leaving fewer regulators to monitor the safety of the growing flood of imports.

Some consumer advocates say that such staff cuts under the Bush administration have made the commission a lax regulator. The commission, for example, acknowledged in a recent budget document that “because of resource limitations,” it was planning next year to curtail its efforts aimed at preventing children from drowning in swimming pools and bathtubs.


Yikes. I hate to sound like one of those anti-foreign harpies, but given recent events with all sorts of whacked-out shit showing up in products proudly Made In China (Now! With Extra Little Oversight!), I am seriously in a quandary.

Even many of my favorite toymakers, including European firms, are outsourcing their work to China. China seems to be either unable or unwilling to police itself. (Heck, if we can't manage to do it, either, how can we expect them to?)

And, given the fact that so much manufacturing and production has moved to China, it seems foolhearty to think that A)We can avoid all products made in China and that B)Despite recent events, that all Chinese-produced things are inherently tainted. There is just a huge unknown.

However, it's appalling that we have to wait for kids or parents to start noticing lead poisining or choking hazards in order to have something actually done about it because of a lack of resources and oversight.

One thought: Perhaps it's past time to start holding stores accountable for selling these products. If retailers hear that their consumers are p.o.'d because they stock items that could potentially kill or critically injure their children or themselves, perhaps retailers will be more responsible consumers, themselves.

How's that for a moral to the story, Thomas? Peep peep!

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Scary. Truly scary. To borrow a line from Thomas this whole issue sure is causing "confusion and delay."

I wish there was some way that we as parents could be more proactive with the CPSB not doing the job for us. We can on some stuff, but lead paint? I don't know I'm supposed to protect my kids from something I don't know about!