When we read Mark Schapiro’s comment in Mothering Magazine in the December issue regarding China manufacturing plants having 2 different assembly lines for the same toy, (one with the toxic substance phthalates permitted and made for sale in the USA, and the other assembly line safer, made for sale in Europe) we knew we had to speak with this man.
We were hoping that he could help bring some light to these toxic toy concerns, regarding the new laws and regulations, that are confusing everyone.
We learned a lot! And I think you will be as stunned as we were to understand what is happening with a little more clarity. Make sure you read all the way through this interview!
Can you compare the toy manufacturers in China with those that we have here in the US?
The #1 argument has repeatedly been made about putting ma-n-pa companies out of business. The fact is that at least 85% of all toys are manufactured in China. So the notion that there are little Japeto toy makers out there is a complete illusion.
No American company of any size compares to what is being produced in China. Here in the US we do have small boutique manufacturers, but nothing truly massed produced.
These small boutiques don’t use the chemicals that many of the big ones in China are.
Are toys that smell more toxic than others?
If a powerful and pungent smell comes from a toy, there is a better chance that there are potentially toxic substances present (in comparison to a toy without any odor whatsoever.)
Furthermore, the EU has a NEW toy restrictive on smells FOR toys.
We were thinking that strong smells coming from wooden toys painted with water or vegetable based paints may smell from formaldehyde used in the glues.
Potentially the presence of Cadmium as well, and you don’t want to mess with this.
Are the formaldehyde or other toxic glue standards, in your opinion, safe enough or should there be better standards? Any difference in EU compared to the new toy safety standards in US?
Generally EU and Europe have much stricter standards than us with this form. Ours here in the US are much weaker.
Formaldehyde is a binding mechanism in glues and also used as a preservative.
We get furniture here that has formaldehyde that you can’t buy in Europe because of their standards that are more restrictive than those of here too.
Formaldehyde really should not be in kids toys. It is very toxic, the fumes let off a very potent neuro-toxin.
Is that true that only 1% of US toys were recalled in 2007? If there would have been more oversight and safety testings, would that number have been much higher?
This sounds about right.
I believe there is just one person who’s job it was to enforce chemical safety in toys for the USA. One person is not physiologically capable of looking over all this safety.
If the CPSC had a commitment to this, furthermore staffing with proper numbers, they would have found more.
Will the CPSC have more staff starting February 09 to do more safety testings to make sure the new standards are met? Will there be a fine/punishment if standards are not met or?
There would be fines in place, more inspections, and even possibly getting withdrawn from the market if standards are not met. The CPSC will publically shine the light on them.
Can you address the amendment in the bill President Bush signed in August 2008?
The new law (written by Democratic Congress and signed by President Bush) has increased the budget going towards the CPSC, AND has increased the powers of the CPSC, starting Feb. 2009.
In response to rising unease by the Chinese exports, this bill was signed by President Bush in August because of the public outrage, due to the extensive toy recalls of 2007. However, shortly after he signed the bill, the head of the CPSC (Bush appointed) amended the bill allowing toxic toys containing phthalates to be sold after February 2009, as long as they were manufactured prior to that date.
Ultimately, this could lead to toxic toys being on our toy-store-shelves for years to come. This emasculation of the CPSC has drastic consequence for the health of our kids and their exposure to toxic substances.
We received this comment from one of our readers: “The laws and rules for America (prior to 2007) with regard to product safety were among the strictest in the world.” What would you say to this?
I think this is actually true, if you exclude from that construction the EU Union and Japan.
If you want to say the world, then that includes Peru, India, Malaysia, Guatemala, Paraguay….(you get the point) and the US standards are higher than these countries. But they are not stronger than those of the EU Union.
Prior to the Bush Administration, we were at the forefront in environmental protection (not exposing Americans to toxic substances like we do currently.) Now there has been a steady retreat, and we are no longer leaders. We are only better than third-world countries such as Paraguay, Guatemala and Cameron.
The point that strikes hard is the consequences of the steady retreat of the Bush Administration. We were leaders globally, now we are not. America was the strongest until 8 years ago.
Is the new CSPC toy safety standard the highest in the world?
I don’t believe so, I think the EU’s Toy Directive (an equivalent measure to our CPSC) has the highest standards.
The new CPSC safety standards are stronger than they use to be, a positive development, but parts of it do not compare to the Toy Directive’s standards which also ban reproductive toxins, mutagens and carcinogens (that the new CPSC law does not.)
And then, of course, there is the loophole with allowing toys with lead and phthalates to be sold after February as well.
Are there other chemicals in toys the CSPC is not addressing the EU is already banning or will ban soon?
No, everything the CPSC is now doing has already been acted upon.
After all of your research, what is you #1 biggest concern that you have regarding toy safety?
I think that it is astounding that we have actually reached this point. That the people that are most vulnerable, are least able to metabolize and get rid of these toxic substances, would be subject to any hazards whatsoever. Particularly when it is not necessary!
The whole array of toxic substances (phthalates, mutagens….) will only accumulate in their bodies.
There appears to be clear alternatives, and they are not being used.
Lawsuit Against CPSC
The NRDC has sued CPSC, in response to their amendment, to allow toxic toys (phthalates and lead) to be sold after Feburary 10, 2009. Still allowing the sale of these toys, even though we now know the dangers of exposing our babies to these substances.
Although Congress has banned the sale of toxic phthalate-laden toys beginning in February 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has caved to industry pressure and created a loophole that will allow these dangerous toys to be sold indefinitely to unsuspecting parents.
We are full of gratitude to Mark for taking his time with us during our phone interview, and for happily sharing his expertise with our readers.
Mark Schapiro is the author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power and Editorial Director for the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Schapiro has been an investigative journalist for more than two decades and has built an award-winning track record with a focus on environmental and international affairs.
His work has appeared in Harper’s, The Nation, Mother Jones, and The Atlantic Monthly. He’s also been a correspondent on NOW with Bill Moyers, FRONTLINE/World, and Marketplace.