A different spin on Cadmium in children’s products

I was somewhat surprised today to see how the NYTs is addressing the cadmium issue in their article, U.S. Seeks Limits on Cadmium for Toys and Jewelry.  What really happened yesterday was the that CPSC asked the industry to self-regulate.  The CPSC Chairman, Inez M. Tenebaum is quoted:  “If we find those standards are insufficient to protect the health and safety of consumers, then we can move to a mandatory standard.”

Why are we waiting? I would have thought that after our experiences with the toy industry and dangerous lead levels–that we have learned our lesson about self-regulation.  Leaving this to the industry also means a continued uncertainty about how to test for cadmium.  As with lead the way you test can greatly impact the results. We agree with the Center for Environmental Health that the standard on the federal level should be the same as it is now in California–which bans children’s jewelry that contains more than 300 parts per million total cadmium.  The “total” testing approach is superior to the extraction approach being used.  The CEH points out that the extraction approach does not take into account the wear and tear that occurs.

This is a step in the wrong direction.

CPSC Backs off Tougher Standards for Cadmium in Children’s Products

Despite all indications that the CPSC was really stepping up and setting tough standards on the levels of cadmium in children’s products– today the agency backed down.  They are suggesting that the industry self-enforce.  Hmmmm? How well did that work out the last time when we were talking about lead.  We are especially concerned that children’s jewelry (that often finds its way into the mouth) is full of cadmium (instead of lead).

Here is an excerpt from the press release we received from the non-profit group  Center for Environmental Health:

“Today’s announcement falls far short of what is needed to end this health threat to children,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “California has adopted a sensible standard that should serve as a national model for limits on cadmium in children’s products. Sadly, if it goes forward, CPSC’s standard would be a step backwards for children’s health.”

In September, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation banning sales of children’s jewelry that contain more than 300 parts per million (ppm) total cadmium. In advocating for the law, which had bipartisan and industry support, CEH noted that a standard based on the total amount of cadmium – and not the amount extracted in a lab solution – is more health protective for children, more enforceable for government regulators, and less expensive and less cumbersome for industry to adopt.

CEH lead testing of thousands of toys and children’s products since 2008 has demonstrated that the federal standard – based on the total lead content – has been highly successful in protecting children and meeting industry’s need for predictable and achievable regulations. Despite this successful regulatory approach and California’s legislative approach, CPSC today announced that it is aiming to create a federal standard based on the amount of cadmium extracted from children’s items.

CEH notes that a total content standard is more appropriate for a cadmium rule because:

It’s safer for children: testing products using an extraction test at the time of production fails to account for normal wear-and-tear, which can dramatically change the amount of the toxic metal that could be released; total content testing avoids this problem, since the total amount of the toxic metal does not change.

It’s more enforceable: total content testing is more objective and repeatable than extraction testing, which is subject to much more variability and error.

It’s less costly and less cumbersome for industry: producers of children’s products can order and test raw materials for total content before fabricating products, saving them time and resources. In most cases, extraction testing is only valid on finished products, so producers may not know that a product fails testing until after the product is ready for marketing.

CEH also notes that inexpensive screening by x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers for cadmium is widely available and already in use by some toy and children’s products companies. Yet such testing may be useless for meeting an extraction standard.

Earlier this year, CEH findings led to the group’s initiating the nation’s first-ever legal challenge to cadmium in jewelry. The nonprofit has ongoing litigation <http://www.ceh.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=440&amp;Itemid=166> for sales of cadmium-tainted jewelry against leading major retailers, including Walmart, Saks, Rainbow and several others. CEH and other groups have also petitioned CPSC and the Environmental Protection Agency, urging them to address the issue of cadmium in children’s products. In an EPA response this August, the agency suggested it would “…work closely with CPSC to determine the most effective means for addressing cadmium in toy metal jewelry and other consumer products, and to determine if action by CPSC should have precedence.”

Handmade Toy Alliance reacts to Testing Exemptions for Mattel

We are waiting to hear back on the status of our safety forms from Mattel. In the meantime, I thought this was worth sharing.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

“The Handmade Toy Alliance reacts to Testing Exemptions for Mattel”

St. Paul, MN – September 1, 2009 – The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) continues to

issue important guidance on several key areas of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

(CPSIA), which was passed by Congress in August 2008 and requires all children’s products to be

tested for safety by third party laboratories. Except, it turns out, for toys made by Mattel, the world’s

largest toymaker, who has recalled 12.7 million toys for safety hazards or lead paint since 2007.

The CPSC granted Mattel permission to operate “firewalled” in-house testing facilities instead of

paying third party laboratories for performing required toy safety testing. Although such in-house

testing facilities are allowed under the CPSIA (due to Mattel’s heavy lobbying in 2008), only very

large manufacturers can meet the requirements set forth in the law.  Smaller manufacturers, including

the members of the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA), must pay third party labs for testing services

ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars per item.

“We are concerned that this is just another example of the fox guarding the hen house,” wrote

Consumer Reports.  Members of the Handmade Toy Alliance couldn’t agree more.  “Mattel is one of

just a few companies that caused all the panic over toy recalls back in 2007,” said Dan Marshall, Vice

President of the HTA and co-owner of Peapods Natural Toys (MN). “While the provisions of the

CPSIA are causing hardship for hundreds of smaller companies with impeccable safety records, Mattel

has been allowed to bring their testing back in house with only a promise that they will not have

continued lapses in product safety.”

“This really makes me crazy,” said Jill Chuckas, Secretary of the HTA and owner of Crafty Baby

(CT). “This law is nearly impossible for small businesses like mine, but Mattel gets let off the hook.

How is that fair?” Mattel’s stock has risen 33% in the first six months since major provisions of the

CPSIA came into effect on February 10, 2009.

The Handmade Toy Alliance again calls to Congress to amend the CPSIA to make it fairer for small

businesses by allowing the CPSC to apply risk analysis to mediate the costs of compliance without

sacrificing safety.  Small businesses should not be punished for Mattel’s mistakes.

Although the CPSC has recently defined a list of materials that are not expected to be contaminated by

lead, many materials still require testing.  “It’s fine to exempt wood, fabric, and paper from testing,”

said Cecilia Leibovitz, President of the HTA and owner of Craftsbury Kids (VT).  “But as soon as you

attach a nail, zipper, button, hinge, or a coat of paint, we’re back to having to pay for testing. Most of

our members are still very much struggling with this law.”

The Handmade Toy Alliance is a grassroots alliance of 382 retail stores, toymakers and children’s

product manufacturers from across the country who want to preserve consumer access to unique

handmade toys, clothes and all manner of small batch children’s goods in the USA.  Formed in

November of 2008 in response to the CPSIA, HTA members are parents, grandparents and consumers

who are passionate about their businesses as well as the safety of the children in their lives.  While in

support of the spirit of the law, the unintended consequences of the CPSIA have motivated members of

the HTA to work to enact change at a federal level.  More information at www.handmadetoyalliance.org.

Toy Safety: Small Parts in Toys Still a Concern

LEGO has been a consistent winner of our top Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award each year–often with multiple winners.  This year will be no exception–except in one category.

When we were at Toy Fair in February we were really excited to see a renewed commitment to the DUPLO line–designed for kids 2 & up. There were Fire Stations,  Trucks, Zoos…all great fun and we knew our preschool testers would love giving them a try.

Each set has arrived and while they are wonderful for 3s & up, we are concerned about the size of some of the pieces in these sets for kids under three. While most of the pieces are big and chunky, we found one or two pieces that caused concern. Let us be clear, all of the pieces meet current government guidelines.  Each of the pieces in question (see images below) extend outside of the “choke tube” and therefore are completely legal.  We wondered though–why make these pieces so close?  The CPSC recommends that parents use a toilet paper roller as a home test…all of these pieces fail under this test.

So we asked the team at LEGO whether there was a design or developmental advantage to having two year olds handle such small pieces and why the pieces were so close to the edge. Here is their response:

Thanks for your question about the DUPLO Zoo* item and some of the accessories it includes.  As you know, all LEGO products are rigorously tested and meet or exceed all safety regulations in the more than 130 countries where the products are sold.  Because the safety of children is our primary concern, we also have our own safety and testing standards that we layer on top of the regulated requirements.

We always make effort to have play imitate life, so the size of the suitcase is proportionate to the DUPLO figure.  We would not include an accessory that could potentially cause harm to a child or that does not pass the CPSC standard for small parts and age grading as regulated by the official choke tube test.  The accessory does not fit completely into the choke tube and use and abuse testing reveals that it also does not break into small parts that will fit completely in the tube.  While we understand the “home” test potential of the toilet paper tube, it is not a regulated means by which to measure safety as it has no bottom to mimic a real-life scenario.

*Since we asked this question about the DUPLO Zoo, we have received several other set that raise similar issues for us.

While we appreciate that the idea of scale is important–we’d side on the up-scaling or eliminating these items for this age range.  The working light piece on the top of the  truck (one of the coolest aspects of the garbage truck–and also in the fire station set) could have been attached to a bigger piece, the fireman’s ax could be attached to his  hand, the same with the pitchfork…you get the idea. The flower and the fish…just look so inviting.

All of these products would have been Platinum Award contenders if not for these small pieces.  We do recommend them for preschoolers–but unfortunately we don’t feel comfortable with the existing age label.  If you buy one of these sets and you have a child under three or a child who still mouths his toys…remove those pieces that concern you and you’ll be left with a engaging product.

We hope LEGO will remodel these “close” pieces.  Last year, after our concern over STEP 2′s hot dogs (that came with some of their kitchens)…the hot dogs were redesigned…so that the  hot dog is now encased  in a bun–making it a much wider and safer prop for play.

Below are some of the pieces, in our opinion, that are unnecessarily too close for comfort.  Again–completely within the law, but we see no reason for them to be this size.

legolightlegoshovellegosuitcaselegoflowerlegoaxlegofish

An interview with Jim Becker of Becker&Mayer! (SmartLab)

little-jim As you know the time frame for the new safety regulations under the CPSIA have been extended by a year. We asked Jim Becker, the co-partner of becker & mayer! some questions about the regs and the new direction of their science/activity kits under the SmartLab brand.

How has the last year of changing safety regulations affected your business?

Because we’ve been selling a lot of products to major retailers over the last few years, we’ve been in the thick of safety regulations for a while now. So we are ahead of the curve, so to speak. I would guess the effects on us are probably less than for other companies.

There are certain kits that we just won’t be able to sell anymore. For others, it’s an added extra expense. And for new products, we really have to design around the safety regulations.

Do you think the extra year before the enforcement of the new CPSIA was necessary?

Yes, because manufacturers need time to redesign their products to meet the regulations.

What was the goal of new redesign [rebrand] of your kits?
While we love the SmartLab dog, as do all of our loyal customers, we decided to rebrand in a way that showcases the components. Our goal was to retain the fun of the dog but focus on the excitement of the product.

What is your favorite kit in the new line?
You-Build-It RoboXplorer…We really created something entirely new that allows kids to build a robotic mechanism that is not only fun to play with, but also teaches kids the fundamentals of robotics. One of the greatest features is kids get to experiment and change things learning through trial and error—the best way to learn!

(SEO: we haven’t tested this one yet.)

What was your favorite toy as a kid?
Legos…I loved to endlessly build things. As a teenager, I graduated to building simple electronics, so my other favorite “toy” was a soldering iron. And, I still have it!

One Year Extension for New Toy Safety Requirements

Toy makers got an extension last week  to meet some of the new requirements under the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).  You should know that the stay does not apply to the following:

“The stay does not apply to:

  • Four requirements for third-party testing and certification of certain children�s products subject to:
  • Certification requirements applicable to ATV�s manufactured after April 13, 2009.
  • Pre-CPSIA testing and certification requirements, including for: automatic residential garage door openers, bike helmets, candles with metal core wicks, lawnmowers, lighters, mattresses, and swimming pool slides; and
  • Pool drain cover requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act.”

To read the Commission’s complete press release, click here. While I’ve heard from some of our testers about their concerns about the delay, I’ve also been in touch with small toy companies that want to comply but are completely confused as to how they achieve full compliance. The mechanics of compliance need to be address so that everyone knows what they need to do and it needs to be set up so that companies can do it without going out of business.

Much of the innovation in this industry has always comes from small start up companies– yet I can’t imagine taking on this industry at the moment. And as much as toy makers have been slammed in the last two years…many are really sound  businesses that strive to make quality products.   From our conversations, they want to do the right thing–they just would like some clarification. If you take a look at the faq’s section of the TIA’s website you’ll see just a glimpse of the scope of questions confronting toy makers.

So to answer some of your emails–yes, we’re disappointed…but more with the lack of clarity from the CPSC.  Our hope is that they streamline the process so that companies can easily comply and restore the public’s confidence in the industry as a whole.

Toy Safety: What has changed?

On the upside, there is a great deal of testing going on across the industry.  In part, retailers have increased the pressure on suppliers to verify that their products meet federal regulations.  More testing has meant continued fall out.  Since the beginning of the new year, ten more products have been recalled due to excessive lead content.  While toy industry folks are quick to point out that there are thousands of products on the market, it’s not such a big number–it is important to remember that under current guidelines, companies are not required to recall toys with excessive levels of embedded lead.  The federal guidelines only address surface coated paint that has excessive lead content.

So what has changed?  More testing, yes.  And while there is legislation pending in Congress, nothing has been passed.  The leading toy industry association has indicated that it will release its own recommendations for testing standards but has not done so yet.  Perhaps it will be part of their toy fair media work.

The answer, therefore, is that there is a lot of forward motion, but no touchdown (I oddly miss football this week). The industry remains on its own, the CPSC has not been given additional resources or legislated bite to its enforcement abilities, and the media has lost interest to a large extent.

What’s a parent to do?  Stay on top of the recalls (you can register for email alerts at www.cpsc.gov.)

Sign Up for CPSC Safety Recall Alerts

One of the best steps you can take this holiday season is to sign up for recall email alerts which you can do at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. This is the fastest way to get the information you need to determine if you have a recalled product and how to return the product for a refund. Unfortunately the companies all seem to have different policies for getting your money back or obtaining a replacement product.