As this column is being written, it’s the last hint of summer here in the Midwest. However, by the time you read this, the holiday season will be at hand. It will soon be in full swing as evidenced by a visit to your favorite retailer.
After a summer filled with toy recalls because of defective magnets and excessive lead paint-as much as 180 times the acceptable levels, according to some experts, I think that the holidays will be much different for many families with children this year. With two young boys of my own, every time I hear of another product recall, I cringe and think, “Here we go again.” Then I scout the list of recalls trying to remember what toys were purchased and when. My kids are too young to have the products with magnets, and most of the toys we own haven’t been affected by lead–paint recalls.
What can a parent, or any consumer, do when trying to select a toy for a child? It may seem to be safe, but the purchaser now has to worry about possible recalls before he even makes a purchase. Does one stop buying toys made in China? Not an easy task when more than 80% of all U.S. toys are manufactured in China, according to a recent report by the Associated Press. Should parents resign themselves to sitting on the porch with blocks of wood and whittle trains, trucks and cars?
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned lead paint for use on toys and children’s furniture in 1978, so why is it still in use? As I write this, Congress is holding hearings to get to the bottom of the issue.
At the second joint U.S.-China summit on consumer product safety held in September, the CPSC announced that China signed an agreement to prohibit the use of lead paint on toys exported to the United States. As part of the pact, China pledged to step up inspections of its exports and take other steps to ensure that those products meet U.S. standards, said Nancy Nord, acting head of the CPSC. That will include joint efforts by the two countries to increase understanding of those standards among manufacturers and exporters.
U.S. and Chinese regulators also agreed to hold regular product safety talks, including monthly discussions of recall activity and trends. China also will help the CPSC trace products to their source when problems do arise.
Many are doubtful that the agreement will do much good.
To do their part to ensure product safety, retailers and manufacturers are taking action by increasing independent testing for lead paint in products. Of course the increased testing costs money. While the manufacturers will take on some of the testing costs, the consumer will bear the brunt of the cost-as much as a 10% increase per toy, according to some reports.
As someone focused on the quality profession, I can understand the cost associated with safety and quality. As a consumer, I think it’s unfair for me to pay more for a toy that should be safe in the first place. Many of you are in the same situation. Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Editor: Tainted Toys
October 1, 2007