Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Much Safer Will CPSIA Make Us?

This is part 1 of some unknown number of parts in a series, "CPSIA by the numbers".

I decided I'd take a closer look and see just how much safer CPSIA would make us if it had been in place in 2008.

First, I made a list of every recall that occurred in 2008. (Yes, it took all day. I have a twisted ankle so I needed an excuse to sit down.) I got the info from the CPSC's website and for each recall jotted down a short description of the item, the hazard for which it was recalled, the number of items recalled, whether CPSIA might possibly have prevented it, how many injuries and how many deaths resulted from it, whether the recall was voluntary or not, and a quick note about what types of injuries were sustained (so that I could distinguish between bruises and broken bones).

Once I had my list in the spreadsheet, I set about analyzing the data. There were 388 recall notices (some of the notices had multiple item recalls on them, for example if they were recalling more than one color of item). Together these recalls represented 31,100,159 individual products, that resulted in 665 injuries and 7 deaths. Most of the recalls (76% of them) had no injuries or deaths associated with them. That means only 24% of the recalls happened as the result of an injury or death.

A quick note about voluntary vs. involuntary recalls. There was only ONE involuntary recall in all of 2008, and it was from a company that had had multiple large recalls in a short period of time and gone out of business. The company that bought its assets refused to conduct the recall, but the retailers jumped right in and went ahead with it, in cooperation with the CPSC. And this one recall was for a bassinet with a strangulation hazard, from which 2 kids had died.

Another point that bears making is that most, but not all, of the recalls for lead paint and lead exposure were ones that would have been prevented by CPSIA. 90% of them would have been (63), but 10% of them (7) were for items definitely not intended for children, such as key chains and candle charms. Wherever there was doubt whether an item might be a "children's item" I pre-emptively ruled that it was a children's item. So for example the Harry Potter bookends that were recalled for lead paint got classed as a children's item for purposes of my analysis. There was one injury from lead exposure from the non-CPSIA lead violations; I didn't count it as one that CPSIA would have prevented, because it was from exposure to a lead-containing adult product (a keychain, in this case).

Of the 63 recalls that would have been prevented by CPSIA, only 1 resulted in an injury (a child ingested lead paint from a crib and had elevated blood levels of lead). This means that had CPSIA been in place for 2008, one child would have been helped.

Think about that: all the expense to which we are going, all the ruination of all the businesses, all of that would only have helped ONE small child be safer.

Now think about how many children we could help if we instituted a lead paint abatement program. According to CDC data, in 2006 there were 39,526 children with blood levels of lead in excess of 10 ug/dl (the level of concern). If we are truly concerned about lead poisoning in children, why don't we start with the 39,525 children who did NOT contract lead poisoning from children's goods?


QUESTION: Trinlayk from Twitter writes: "but still ONE injury from ONE product that would have been covered under this law".

RESPONSE: I'm a big fan of human life, and of saving whomever we can. I don't think lead poisoning is in any way a good thing, and if I were Empress Of The Universe I would order that no child be subjected to lead poisoning. However, think of the billions of dollars that will be wasted on the pre-emptive testing of so many lead-free items that MAY have saved this one child (who, it should be remembered, didn't die)-- and I say "may" because we have no guarantee that unscrupulous manufacturers might make a lead-free sample for testing while still using lead paint on the rest of the run-- think of all the billions of dollars. Now imagine that we took 1/1000 of that (still millions of dollars) and spent it on eradicating lead-based paint in old homes where children live. Sure as hell we'd save more than one child from lead poisoning.

It's a nice sentiment to say "even one is one too many," but to save just one is it worth bankrupting ourselves and putting ourselves in a position where we can't afford to save the thousands of others?


Do you have questions that you'd like to see answered in this series? Email me with the subject "CPSIA By The Numbers" or Twitter me @curiouswork, or leave them in the comments.