Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Unsafe Toys: Why are these recalled? What can we do?

During the last quarter of 2007, parents, educators and retailers had a rude awakening when toys brought in from China by major toy importers like Mattel and Fisher-Price were found to contain high levels of lead. Such toys were recalled from store shelves and were ordered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to be destroyed. The chemical lead (Pb) is a regulated substance, particularly in articles intended for children; as these can dust off. Lead dust, when ingested; accumulates in the body to cause irreversible, neurological damage. Many parents were angry and found wanting for more information as to how these could have happened and how else they may be able to protect their children from the harmful effects of lead exposure. The US Senate and House of Representatives have introduced bills with the intention of reforming the Consumer Product Safety Commisssion (CPSC) so that the entry of products in the marketplace could be better monitored for safety. Many friends have asked me, "what can we do"? I assume this to mean what can we do to make sure these banned and recalled products are destroyed and not sold to anyone.

We in the United States can be assured that these products will not be sold in the usual merchandising channels (chain stores) because merchants will be penalized with fines and/or imprisonment if found selling these after a recall had been announced. Their future actions will also be under the microscope of Regulatory agencies. Where it gets alarming is when these products might be sold in small outlets, dollar stores, Mom and Pops or thrift shops as such establishments don't necessarily have Regulatory Compliance capabilities. What we can do is to prevent re-occurrences. If you access http://www.govtrack.us/, you'll be able to check on how your Senators and Representatives have been working for you. In addition to their bios, you'll see their voting records, the bills they've authored and sponsored including their attendance whenever Congress is in session. You'll be able to identify those who would likely champion consumer rights and you want to bring your concerns to their attention.

Those who are not residing in the United States can check out http://www.cpsc.gov/ for announcements of products that have been recalled. The announcements are quite descriptive with stock numbers and photos included. These announcements make it easy to spot recalled products in stores. Warnings can be delivered by word of mouth among social circles, churches, schools and the media. I'm sure there's at least one journalist who might find this topic worth reporting even if it piggybacks on an environmental cause. And then there are government agencies and probably a non-governmental agency (NGO) supporting children's and women's issues.

In our own personal ways, we can encourage our children to create their own toys. I remember my childhood, playing with the neighborhood kids; creating toys from objects we found within our immediate sourroundings. But adult supervision should be mandatory. We also competed in sports. These not only develop creativity and physical strength in kids but also boosts their social skills.

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