Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Banning the ABCs

In the United States, folks spend around $20,000,000,000 (that's Billion) on toys each year. Monitoring the safety of these toys in the US is the Government funded Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) around $10,000,000 (that's Million) on testing toys and other consumer products. Also at play is the not-for-profit watchdogs Ecology Center, which posts unhealthy toys and products on www.HealthyStuff.org. If you're an avid purchaser of toys, you may find yourself dramatically altering your purchasing decisions.

I've not heard of a Zhu Zhu toy hamster, and yet it's been banned due to high levels of 'antimony'. Antimony is a metal extracted predominately from ore composites, with roughly 84% of the world's supply coming from China. Antimony will burn when a flame is held to it, but will extinguish itself when the flame is removed. While its use is in a variety of markets from children's clothing, toys, and seat covers, antimony's most important use is as a hardener in lead for storage batteries.

I have heard of the 'imaginarium cube' – that oddly-shaped cube that has 12 cut outs of various shapes, wherein a child then inserts the appropriately shaped object…and that too was banned, but for high levels of 'barium'. Barium is a soft silvery metal not easily extracted and is founded in certain ore composites. Like Antimony, barium has many uses ranging from the medical field to the making of bricks, glass, and the green colour seen in fireworks.

And, toys made with PVC are at risk of containing unsafe levels of 'cadmium' and have been banned accordingly. Cadmium joins the aforementioned as a metal extracted from ore composites. The highly toxic metal, cadmium is widely used as in electroplating due to its excellent corrosion resistance. You'll find it in solder, and it's used as a barrier to control neutrons in nuclear fission.

The US Government has decided that these particular metals require legislative intervention through the introduction of the Safe Kids' Jewelry Act, preventing the aforementioned ABC metals from being manufactured, sold, or distributed in children's jewelry. Hot on the heels of recent recalls of toys imported from China this past December, this latest piece of legislation may not have been fully thought out. Antimony in particular is used as a fire-retardant in toys and clothing. Remove this component, and we've opened up a whole new sub-set of concerns. This particular legislative piece is meant to dovetail into the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and as such carries some pretty stiff controls and penalties for failure to comply.

While manufacturing and selling safe toys should be a given; and understanding that these particular metals are not exactly new to the industry; it calls into question the business ethics of manufacturers who knowingly create harmful toys intended for children. Whether it is ignorance or simply arrogance, the fact that it occurs at all is disturbing. To throw a loop into this particular legislation is that barium doesn't register on the HealthyStuff website. Perhaps they are reacting to a Canadian ban on Connecticut-based company Melissa & Doug manufactured products due to barium-laden paint on the recalled items.

While the children learn their ABCs, I guess the parents will also be watching their ABCs in their toy purchases.

No comments:

Post a Comment