Private citizens keeping our kids safe
When the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled an additional half-million pieces of lead jewelry, the effort was not the result of leadership by the anemic regulators appointed by President Bush. Rather, Ward Stone and his 10-year old daughter were responsible. They "out-investigated" the Feds: a seemingly difficult task, but in fact, relatively easy when industry-insiders are appointed to maintain only a semblance of regulation. The Stones used a process developed to test for lead levels in deer carcasses (deposited by lead bullets), and found that 56 of 75 pieces of jewelry they tested exceeded Federal limits on lead (.06 percent). Stone found that some jewelry was one-half lead by weight.
When Stone tested the jewelry his daughter had received at birthday parties and found that it contained excessive levels of lead, he took his findings to the office of the New York State Attorney General. The New York AG then pressed the CPSC for action and the recall was instituted. (Sadly, it has been well documented that only a small portion of recalled merchandise is actually returned and taken out of commerce.)
Andrew Cuomo, the New York AG, signed an agreement with 12 retailers to stop marketing products with unsafe levels of lead, but the CPSC was typically passive. Cuomo's hope is to force retailers to conduct independent testing, or to at least force them to require independent, reliabile testing. As with other, similarly unsafe products, retailers have claimed that the problems lie solely with their suppliers.
As Charles Margulis, communications director for the Center for Environmental Health explained, the CPSC is often uncooperative and unresponsive to consumers who report safety issues. People like Judy Braiman, a grandmother of six in upstate New York, have been testing on their own and identifying items such as the "Sassy & Chic" bracelet sold at Dollar Tree stores. The first bracelet she tested was composed of 23 percent cadmium, a metal classified as a carcinogen. When Ms. Braiman repeated the test on another brand of bracelet sold at Dollar Tree, she found it was made up of 34 percent cadmium. In response to her press release, Dollar Tree has pulled the first brand of bracelet from its shelves--but not the second. The CPSC has yet to act. A spokesman for the Center for Environmental Health noted that the CPSC under the Bush Administration frequently omits from its recall notices the fact that the hazardous product was identified by private citizens, thereby allowing the rest of us to believe that the CPSC has actually accomplished something on its own.
Yet another private citizen who has shown more motivation than the "loyal Bushies" is Marilyn Furer, an Illinois retiree who used a home testing kit to check her grand-child's bibs for lead. She was appalled to find unsafe levels of lead on 8 of 20 bibs. She took her findings to the Center for Environmental Health (a non-profit group) and ultimately secured the agreement of several companies, including Toys 'R' Us, to stop carrying the bibs. The New York Times quoted Ms Furer as explaining that she kept thinking "someone should do something...[and] then you look around and realize that you've got to be the one to do it". Its a sad comment on the well-paid "starve-the-beasters" in whose hands the Republicans have placed consumer safety, when well-intentioned retirees are more effective in protecting our children than are the "professionals".