24 November 2010

News That Would Break His Heart

This week the Associated Press issued a story about tests it commissioned on drinking glasses bought at the Warner Brothers Studio store. Those tumblers turned out to have high levels of lead and cadmium.

AP’s testing, conducted by ToyTestingLab of Rhode Island, found that the enamel used to color the Tin Man had the highest lead levels, at 1,006 times the federal limit for children’s products.

Every Oz and superhero glass tested exceeded the government limit: The Lion by 827 times and Dorothy by 770 times; Wonder Woman by 533 times, Superman by 617 times, Batman by 750 times and the Green Lantern by 677 times.
Also involved are glasses made with a Return of the Jedi license, and those for particular soft-drink and fast-food brands.

It appears that these glasses were made in China, where standards are loose, and compliance and enforcement lax—which is one reason why American manufacturers can find such cheap prices there. Now American companies are scrambling to take these products off their shelves.

There are political dimensions to this problem. One is whether the glasses are children’s products, as opposed to products for adult collectors. For biological reasons, safety standards for lead are much more strict when it comes to things children are likely to put in their mouths. The glasses would therefore be illegal as children’s products, but legal as adult products.

Another question is whether the government should regulate cadmium on “design surfaces,” meaning the outside of glasses like these. Tests show that the lead- and cadmium-based paint flake off under normal use, but it’s unclear whether it would be ingested.

And of course there’s the broad political question: whether the Republican approach to safety regulation, giving businesses a freer hand in the name of…business, serves the public well when it comes to balancing costs with safety. We may soon find out.

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