Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Letter to the Editor

In response to a letter to the editor (A Partisan Assault on Child Safety Law, December 31) regarding my December 24th op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, I wish to make several points:

First, regarding the letter’s assertion that there is “bipartisan” support for the CPSIA:

- At least 11 bills have been introduced since the CPSIA’s passage to amend the law to avert its unintended consequences, including some bills by Democrats.

- Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have written more than a dozen letters to the Commission to request leniency in the law’s requirements for small businesses, exemptions for specific products they feel should not have been impacted by the law, and other changes. To date, the Commission has not addressed these concerns due to a steadfast determination to narrowly interpret the statute.

- Last month, Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) explicitly asked the Commission to report back to them with recommendations on ways to amend the law to make it more workable – a report which was submitted on January 15th.

- For the past year, Republicans in Congress have requested that the Majority hold hearings with stakeholders on the CPSIA, to no avail.

So, to infer that the CPSIA still holds bi-partisan support is absurd and completely false.

Secondly, regarding the “bio-availability” of lead in children’s products, there are terms like these used by non-scientists, the media, as well as CPSC Commissioners describing lead that are worth taking a moment to explore. The author of this letter uses a few of them:

- “Exposure” – The concept of “exposure” to lead is broad. “Exposure” in this context can mean that a product with lead (i.e. your house keys) is in the same room as the person “exposed.” Thus, if you are “exposed” to unsafe levels of lead, this does not necessarily have anything to do with whether you lick it, digest it, or in any way consume it so that it gets into your bloodstream.

- “Absorbability” or “bio-availability” – Not to be confused with “exposure,” the absorbability of lead would mean, for example, when you touch a bicycle handlebar and then lick your fingers, how much lead actually gets into your bloodstream? Very, very, very little, if any. If you continued to touch that handlebar every day and lick your fingers afterwards, there is no plausible possibility you would be at risk of absorbing too much lead.

But more importantly, absorbability is where experts (Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health) have found that lead paint in old houses as well as lead in dirt near old gas stations can be very dangerous for small children. In other words, the risk of absorbability with lead paint in an old home that becomes chipped is quite high. The CDC advises that children under five years old with blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood be treated to prevent lead poisoning (

However, none of these agencies has ever found that a child touching or mouthing the brass on a toy car, playing a brass musical instrument, touching a vinyl lunchbox, or riding a bicycle, could ever rub off enough lead, day after day, to ever affect his or her health. Yet, these are the types of products outlawed by the CPSIA.

If you are concerned about “exposure” to lead (as the author of this letter may be), which does not necessarily have anything to do with ingesting lead or a health risk, then you may be interested in simply banning lead in all consumer products, everywhere – with no resulting health benefit at the end of the day. But if you are concerned with the “bio-availability” or “absorbability” of lead and what products actually could cause a rise in the blood lead levels of young children, as I am, you would prefer a policy allowing for de minimis absorbable lead (e.g., as the Food and Drug Administration permits 1 microgram of lead in a piece of candy) where a child is not at risk, combined with a focus on heavy enforcement for items that do pose a risk, like the solid-lead small parts or jewelry referred to in the author’s letter that can be swallowed and absorbed—as well as lead paint in old homes.

I appreciate an open, thorough debate on the science behind these issues and welcome comments. It is essential that the facts and the science behind the risks of lead absorption be front and center as the Commission implements the CPSIA and Congress addresses recommendations to amend it.

1 comment:

halojones-fan said...

I'm sure you've heard this elsewhere, but the purpose of the CPSIA is not to reduce lead exposure; it's to act as a de facto tariff on imported Chinese products. It stands to reason that the regulations would be applied in as draconian a manner as possible, because this isn't about safety--it's about keeping Johnny Chinaman from selling his wares here in the US of A.