I can't help shaking my head in mock disbelief at the twists and turns the lead paint scandal has taken.
First, I shake my head that six months after Mattel made headlines for a recall involving nearly 1 million lead-tainted toys, products continue to be yanked off retailers’ shelves for violating the nation’s lead paint standard.
For the record, I counted 14 incidences of lead paint-related product recalls on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site through the first 38 days of the New Year. The most recent action occurred on Feb. 7, when Benjamin Intl of Middlebury, CT, recalled approximately 460,000 pendants and candle charms. A slight twist to this recall is that the products in question were made in Korea, not China, which is the point of manufacture of an overwhelming number of the lead paint product recalls dating back to last spring.
I would have thought, given the intensive publicity and the amount of time that has elapsed, that somewhere along the sales chain - manufacturers, importers, distributors and/or retailers - would have long since tested any and all suspect products and ceased peddling those that did not pass muster.
Clearly this is not the case, a fact made ever more apparent by the head-shaking refusal of Ty Inc. to remove a lead-tainted doll from stores. According to a front-page story published Jan. 22 by the Chicago Tribune Ty, best known for unleashing Beanie Babies on the world, has allegedly reneged on its promise to remove Jammin' Jenna dolls donned in shoes that exceed lead levels. According to the Tribune, a spokesman for the Westmont, IL, company told the Illinois attorney general's office that while it would not pull old tainted dolls from shelves, it would not ship any more of them to retailers.
Ty’s bold public refusal to comply with the law adds fuel to the fire that the CPSC and related state agencies are lacking teeth to enforce product safety.
The Super Bowl might be over (tough luck, Pats fans), but the lead paint scandal remains a highly charged game of political football on Capitol Hill.
In December, the House of Representatives voted 407-0 on a product safety reform bill. Among other things, the bill would boost funding for the CPSC, phase in further reductions of lead in children's products, require independent safety testing of toys by CPSC-accredited labs and increase maximum potential penalties for non-compliance from less than $2 million to $10 million.
The Senate is reportedly close to voting on a product safety bill of its own. It would also expand CPSC's enforcement funding and jack maximum fines up to a whopping $100 million.
I don't begrudge Congress for tackling product safety. As a parent, I know firsthand that small children will put anything handy into their mouths and I would prefer that when they do, it doesn't contain lead, small magnets or other potentially dangerous ingredients.
That said, I can't help shake my head and wonder where things would be if Congress had paid even a small fraction of the attention to the decline of U.S. manufacturing 10 to 20 years ago, as it has to the issue of product safety today. Maybe we would still have major domestic manufacturers of toys and perhaps even a vigorous furniture manufacturing base.
Is your head shaking up and down or side to side to that thought?
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.