12.05.2007

The Year of the Recall: Got questions? You're going to get answers.

Let me start by saying that this is not another "look what a dumb pitch I got" rant. I'll save that one for the woman who asked me to review a book by an evangelical preacher about how to talk to your kids about Jesus.

Oh by the way, Happy Hanukkah, fellow Moms of the Tribe. Remind me also to tell you about my blasphemous Atheist of a sigOth letting Thalia put Ketchup on her potato pancakes.

Anyhow, what did I want to talk about? Oh right, lead in toys.

Ugh, I know - how much more can we talk about it? Well, I suppose as long as we hear that lead-tainted Fisher-Price toys only get recalled in Illinois which has higher standards than the rest of the US. (Thanks, Fidget.)

Score 1 for the Prairie State, -600 Million for Fisher-Price.

Because of Cool Mom Picks, I get a whole lot of solicitations and information about safe and not-so-safe toys this year. Toy companies are leading their pitches with their manufacturing standards. It's really exciting to me because what it means is that moms, as consumers, are actually making a difference. In fact, so many of the amazing shops and artists we featured in our Safer Toy Guide can't keep anything in stock. So whoo for us, using our pocketbooks to vote against mass-produced, corner-cutting, potentially unsafe plastic crap for our kids this year. I'm proud of us. Love us. Us is awesome.

And then I got an email from a very nice PR flack named Rachelle, with the very unfortunate job of having to do damage control for the Toy Industry Association which--don't let that dot-org url or the cute stock photos of kids on their site fool you--is essentially the lobbying group for the asshats outsourcing all their toymaking out to the lowest bidders. They're also on the record as being just awesome with pthalates in toys.

I got feisty when I read through the press release and saw the old PR trick, "Hey, here's a Q and A with our grand poobah of toy safety and by the way she's a mom too!"

I know it's hard to believe, but yes, sometimes I do in fact get feisty.

Essentially the Qs were not Qs at all, but softballs gently lobbed by Fleishman-Hillard in the way that Sean Hannity asks George Bush things like, "So on a scale of 99-100, how much more do you love our country than John Kerry?"

And so I went off on a rather pissy rant describing how the VP of Toy Safety (hell of a title to have these days) took no responsibility for any of the issues, described no penalties for violators of our "very tough policies" and was incredibly vague about actions going forward.
The part that really stuck in the noggin was the following. Parentheses mine.

Everyone knows about the recalls of toys with lead paint. How big is the problem and should parents be worried about toys made in China?

The toy industry is very concerned that lead has been found in the paint in some toys. This is absolutely unacceptable. [But apparently it's acceptable to find lead in toys if it's not in the paint but in the PVC - see above Fisher-Price link.] We have a new initiative to ensure consistent testing and inspection of products so that this does not happen again. [Entirely unrealistic, but sure does sound good!] For now, two facts can help parents assess the relative risks of toys. First, parents should know that toys are statistically among the safest products in a household. [More than Windex? More than electric drill bits? Goodness, that IS comforting.] Toy recalls account for less than one percent of the 3 billion toys sold in the U.S. annually. [So if it's not recalled it's automatically safe? That's not what I've heard.] Also, all toys sold in the U.S. must conform to U.S. safety standards, regardless of where they are made. [And U.S. safety standards are...good? Better than Germany? Better than Nigeria? What's the continuum here?] Secondly, medical experts and toxicologists say that a child's exposure to lead from a recalled toy would likely be minute under normal use. [Under normal use presumably doesn't include a 2 year-old sucking on the head of her Diego doll.] They encourage parents to focus instead on the primary sources of lead in a child's environment – from paint in old homes, lead in old plumbing, and other environmental sources.

SO.

Anyway.

For someone in charge of safety assurance, I felt neither safe nor assured.

But the more I thought about it, big deal if I didn't like the press release. I'm just one person. Where does that get me?

And so, brilliant readers, Rachelle from F-H has quite bravely agreed to let a mob of angry, frustrated, anxious, but incredibly thoughtful, smart, and impressively critically-thinking moms ask the questions of the TIA's VP of Toy Safety this time.

Awesome.

Leave me the question you'd like to ask in comments. I'll cull down a few good ones and send it off by the end of the week or so and then post the answers - so you and you alone can decide whether the TIA is looking out for your best interests. That's all we really want, right?

Please feel free to pass this along, or ask your menfolk or grandmas or friends if they have question too. It's kind of like the YouTube Presidential debate where everyone gets a voice, only you don't have to make a video.

Although if you did, and you had a confederate flag in the background and a smartass question about it, I would totally accidentally put your full name and home address on there before releasing it to BET.

----

Update: Find the questions--and answers--here.


33 Comments:

Anonymous Bonnie K said...

I have no questions, but I am impressed with your powerful advocacy. Of course you have a vested interest, two kids, but I feel more secure knowing that you stand up.
Who would have stood up on Iran?
Bonnie

12/5/07, 7:15 AM  
Blogger Mama Luxe said...

Thank you for the head's up.

I have a few questions:

1. If the government was supposed to ensure that toys sold in the US met US standards before all the recalls this year, what will they be doing differently that should increase our confidence?

2. What, exactly, is this "new initiative?" By how much will the government increase its staff of testers? What new methods will they be using? Be specific.

3. Given that it is impossible to inspect every single toy, or even every bath of toys, that arrives in the US, how can you possibly guarantee toy safety?

4. If the toys were always supposed to be safe, how can we trust companies that not only put unsafe toys on the shelf, but put unsafe toys on the shelf again, that they are really, really safe this time, really?

5. Isn't the larger problem our uneven trade with a China that is still the "wild west," in terms of its safety regulations--why do we continue to grant this country the best possible access to our lucrative market while they keep their incredibly large market relatively closed to us? Why do we believe a country with an atrocious human rights record cares about making safe toys for our children?

I'll let you know if I think of more.

And I'll post this on some of my blogs and encourage others to come over here.

12/5/07, 7:30 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

I think you have the questions under control. I'll wait for the answers.

I guess I should be glad that my kids prefer to play with the cooking utensils.

12/5/07, 7:58 AM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...

Um... What Mama Luxe said. My question, as posed by the folks at Eco Child's Play, is then what happens to all the toys that are recalled... Because stores are not getting them off the shelf and people are selling them on ebay.

Will there be fines? Penalties?

12/5/07, 8:01 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Ugh.

UGH.

I am so angry and frustrated and while I'd love to think up some witty deep questions, I don't have the time, nor the inclination, and I don't believe it will do any good. (How's that for positive thinking?)

I linked to this post in my blog today. (http://okayfinedammit.blogspot.com)

Wake me when the holidays are over. If my kids are still speaking to me.

12/5/07, 9:25 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

Just (like 30 minutes ago) listened to a Fresh Air podcast on phthalates. Scared the bejeebus out of me. Here's my question:

Why, since Europe has enacted stricter standards on phthalates in toys, does that make it just for the leftover toys that Europe doesn't want anymore to be shipped to the U.S. for our children to play with? Are American children less susceptible to the potentially harmful toxins in plastics? Europe is using a sort of phthalate substitute with good success. Why aren't we using it here?

Yes, there is some sarcasm in there, but like I scared this sh*t scares me. I don't like gambling with the health of my children.

12/5/07, 9:50 AM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

I'm still completely bewildered by the attitude of the CPSC and its leader, Nancy Nord.

Considering that the press so far indicates that Nancy Nord is in bed with the toy industry, I'm hoping TIA might shed some light on the real relationship between them - and how they plan to reconcile their grandiose plans with the bad attitude of the CPSC.

Yeah, I'm pissy too.

12/5/07, 10:16 AM  
Blogger T with Honey said...

Thank you so much for posting this. The toy recalled in IL is on Princess's wish list. I KNOW that she would put that blood pressure cuff in her mouth!

The issue with toy safety is getting quite tiring. I'm to the point where I won't believe that ANY toys are safe unless I test them myself.

12/5/07, 10:19 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I noticed on the AG toy recall guide that a pail similar to the one I just got my son for christmas had been recalled. It was the same, really, only the recalled pails were made between 2001 and 2002 and the pail I had just bought was copywrited in 2006. I'd ask her why it's taking so long for these dangerous toys to be detected and also why we, as parents, should continue to trust companies who have been so consistently lax in the past?

Do they really think I'm going to give my kids these toys now? Maybe I should wait five years to see if they get around to recalling this pail, too.

12/5/07, 10:42 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

Un-FREAKING-believable!

I want to know WHY they don't test a random sample from every shipment/batch of toys. The FDA does random sampling of foods, drugs and cosmetics. WHY don't toys get the same treatment?

The link you have to daddytypes' page took me to a pic of a rubber ducky with baby ducks on it's back that my son has had since he was BORN! He's 20 months old now and has been chewing on that thing in the bath for a long time! WTF people? I'm about ready to start carving my own freaking toys and throw away everything we've got. It'd be cheaper than having to buy enough lead testing kits to test everything he has.

12/5/07, 12:37 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Angela, we have the same one. I tossed it right away out of probably an overabundance of caution. But still...eek.

12/5/07, 2:01 PM  
Blogger Mom Ma'am Me said...

I'm with MU. Since I collected Breyer horse models as a kid, I was interested in the recall of their holiday ornament. I noticed yesterday that there are several selling for big bucks on eBay. Where are the repercussions for the people who ignore the recalls?

And what REALLY scares me is the thought of all these toys that aren't returned to the manufacturer. I know charities are scrutinizing donations to make sure they don't end up with the tainted goods. But when it's too much trouble for people to return the recalled (or not recalled but dangerous) toys to the manufacturer, these things will end up in our LANDFILLS.

What happens then?

(Not sure the VP of Toy Safety would have the answer to that question. It's just been sticking in my craw for weeks.)

12/5/07, 2:03 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

"Oh by the way, She's a Mom too." So is Brittany Spears.

Here's a question: How about you address the toy issue rather than deflecting to the lead paint/pipes in homes issue?

12/5/07, 2:42 PM  
Blogger caramama said...

Love this: "Oh by the way, She's a Mom too." So is Brittany Spears.

Here is my question (let's hope I can make it come out right):

You have said that all toys sold in the US must conform to US safety standards, regardless of where they are made. However, I have learned that current research shows the federally-mandated safety standards for the amount of lead in paint is too high, specifically in regards to the damage lead can do if ingested by babies and children. My understanding is that most US factories self-regulate to be much lower than the federally-mandated safety standards. Therefore in order to ensure true safety of paint on toys manufactored in other countries, the US must change the safety standard. In what way are you supporting this needed change?

URG!!! This issue makes me crazy! But thanks Mom-101 for doing this! You rock!

12/5/07, 3:02 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

What a fantastic thing to do. I haven't got anything on the mind right now that hasn't already or that won't be asked I think, but I am eager to see what you find out.

Julie
Using My Words

12/5/07, 3:08 PM  
Blogger caramama said...

Oh, I've got another one (I'm getting more and more riled up as the day goes on):

Many manufacturers and yourself keep saying that the toys meet US safety standards. But that should not be the issue. The issue is are the toys safe. Why aren't you and others ensuring the safety of every area of toys, including those that don't have current safety standards created for them (such as the lead levels in plastic)? Don't you want the toys to be truly safe, not just meet some standard?

Did I mention URG????

12/5/07, 3:23 PM  
Blogger Loukia said...

Thanks for this post. It just seems so hopeless... like look around at all the toys our kids have, play with and suck on... I mean man! They're practically all made in CHINA. And it scares me to think about (besides the Thomas trains I took away and returned) how many other toys I have have that have been recalled that I don't know about! I think a cookie monster bath toy thing we have was recalled but only if bought before last May or something like that... I don't remember when I bought it! I hate how we have to look into dates, serial numbers, etc. If it's listed as unsafe, just take the darn thing back regardless of when it was bought and give me back my money! And of course it's not about the money, but come on! We have enough darn mommy worries... toys now has to top or worry list? Along with the dangerous chemicals in formula cans now!?!?!?!? And in plastic bottles... man I'm scared! We are buying a lot more toys that are made in Europe lately. But still, I just feel so helpless! Sorry for the nonsense, rambling comment...

12/5/07, 3:39 PM  
Blogger Dad said...

Here is Australia, there has been quite a few toy recalling going on. Frankly what toys being made today are safe? They all fall apart once the child begins their experimental stage. A friend of ours has a daughter that loves dress ups so they go get old clothes and jewellery and have a ball with virtually no cost. We are far too obessed with new things nowadays.

12/5/07, 6:30 PM  
Blogger TB said...

I feel lucky that Myles was born right when all this madness started and that I aready had a severe bias against plastic crap so we don't have a ton of it to begin with.

What you're doing, taking the industry and the lobbies to task, is really great, but in the end, corporations lie. We all know this. And the safest thing to do is just avoid the potentially hazardous toys. If all of us concerned parents continue to do this, our dollars will go to those companies that truly prize safety AND ethics and perhaps then a change can occur.

What worries me is the millions of uneducated or uniformed parents out there who walk into Target, see aisle after aisle of floor to ceiling cheap plastic toys and think nothing of filling their carts. This is what the manufacturers are counting on - that the number of people who don't know/don't care will far outweigh the buying power of the people who do.

It scares me to think of the implications of this demographic divide in who is buying what.

12/5/07, 8:31 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I must admit, this whole toy recall business has not been much of an issue for me, but I got jerked out of my stupor this week when I heard the same Fresh Air show Mrs. Chicky mentions above (link to the podcast mentioned at my blog, if you're interested.)

My question would be (inspired by the NPR interview):

The European Union has banned phthalates in toys, so China (which makes roughly 85% of the world's toys) has separate production factories that DO NOT put phthalates in toys made for the European Union, and this has not increased the price of the toys for European buyers. How will you and the TIA work toward these same types of bans here in the U.S.?

12/6/07, 12:36 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

tb: I'm totally with you. I was in Target this week and there wasn't a moment's hesitation from a lot of the parents in there filling their carts with whatever was the cheapest. It always has another cost.

These are great great questions everyone, thank you.

12/6/07, 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Ani said...

I would like a summary of what are the testing protocols and the standards, plus how the standards were developed and how they relate to scientific research on the effects of chemicals on HUMANS.

FWIW--there are standards developed by the FDA regarding the NUMBER OF INSECT PIECES acceptable in chocolate candy for human consumption. So...standards, schmandards. Just setting them is not enough.

12/6/07, 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Dr.MOZ said...

Here's a question from your old friend Dr.MOZ to pass along:

* Ask why the XRF analyzers aren't used at the manufacturing, shipping, or distribution levels. It's a hand-held device (the size of scanners used at grocery stores) used to test lead and other harmful chemicals.

The scanners were used at Union Square in SF yesterday to give the public free and instant toy scans. There's no reason why (besides a lack of incentive) these scanners can't be used regularly by (a) major manufacturers overseas before products are packaged, and (b) randomly by distributors in the US that would like to earn back the public's trust.

Go get'em Mom 101!

~ Dr.MOZ

12/6/07, 2:43 PM  
Blogger ALI said...

ok here is my question, when the fisher price recall happened we had at least five of the items. most of them had multiple parts. when i looked them up i was told that because our toys were purchased before the specified time frame they were safe. i find it hard to believe that this lead problem suddenly came up in 2007, that toys purchased in 2005 and 2006 were not effected at all, i suspect it just means they weren't tested. how do i know if these toys are safe? do i throw away some of my sons favorite toys when fisher price said they weren't effected? will anyone look at toys purchased before the recalls started?

12/6/07, 10:36 PM  
Blogger ALI said...

yeah make that *affected* not effected, i need to stop reading blogs and go to bed!

12/6/07, 10:42 PM  
Blogger Jessica @ A Bushel and a Peck said...

While we did not actually have any of the toys that were specifically recalled, we had many toys that were very similar, just a serial number or color different, or were not bought during the specified time period. (I took them all away anyway, just in case. I'm not waiting to see that they are on the next recall list before I take them away.) What percentage of toys CURRENTLY ON SHELVES in Target, Toys R Us, etc have been tested?
And this may be something that people already know but I haven't found out yet, but how do I dispose of the toys that I took away? Are there any specific procedures for getting rid of them safely?
I am so angry about this, I could cry. Its extremely difficult to imagine that the toys my kids have been playing with for YEARS may have been hurting them.

I will post this on my blog as well, hopefully we can make a difference. Although right now I am so discouraged I don't know how we can create enough change to fix this problem.

12/7/07, 10:17 AM  
Anonymous mrs. q. said...

Toys? Heck, I'm more worried about the fargin' Christmas tree. If you haven't read the alarming lead warning on a box of Christmas lights, please do. I never knew you had to WASH YOUR HANDS after handling the lights. Heck, I think I held them in my mouth while detangling them.

12/7/07, 1:55 PM  
Blogger Angelface79 said...

This is a really great and informative post. Thanks for sharing.

12/8/07, 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Jule said...

Thanks for taking this on -- hopefully we can get some (real) answers now!

Here's my question to add to the already impressive list:
We've heard so much about lead in toys, but there are many other toxic chemicals in toys that haven't made the national news (ie, cadmium, chlorine, PVC, arsenic, and mercury, just to name a few). What is being done to ensure overall toy safety? How will we know that our children's toys are truly safe, and the Toy Industry is not just averting the lead crisis currently dominating headlines?

12/9/07, 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Jule said...

Oh, and another great website that is taking on the testing of toys:
http://www.healthytoys.org/home.php
You can search for your kids' specific toy to see what nasty stuff (if any) is in them!

12/9/07, 4:42 PM  
Blogger Mommy off the Record said...

Just wanted to say "yay MOM 101 for putting their feet to the fire with these question." I'll be interested to hear their response.

12/11/07, 1:22 AM  
Blogger recallking said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/5/08, 9:57 PM  
Blogger Rubberbacon said...

I'm a little late to leave comments on this post since its from December '07 but I do have some comments on this subject. I work for a toy company and I've managed the development of products for 7 years. Toy safety is part of my daily life. There is a lot I could say on this subject but I'll try to keep it simple:
* Testing is required by the US Government for all initial productions. The testing standard for US is ASTM F963. No product can ship from China customs without a pass test report.
* Testing is supposed to be performed on production line pieces and thus representative of materials used in production.
* Testing is not required for re-orders. This means foreign materials could be introduced in subsequent productions.
* Most of my experience is with soft plush toys which have very little exposure to lead issues. The only lead issue I can think of is when a plush toy has a print that sits on the surface of the toy (it feels rubbery). That paint is applied through a silk screen process and the paint could potentially receive contaminants in the mixing process prior to application and/or have come from a lead-based source). Other then this one print issue, I've never experienced problems with lead-paint in plush toys.
* Most of the products I develop are for Disney. Disney has the strictest requirements of all Licensors (I've worked with all the major licensors). Disney requires testing on initial productions and annually they require re-testing. Disney executives annually visit our factories to tour and ensure safety regulations are met.
* Disney requires an annual factory audit where they ensure the factory meets all humanitarian, civil and legal rights & laws.

In summary, I recommend trusting Disney toys and plush.

2/2/08, 2:55 PM  

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