Monday, May 10, 2010

Assuring Product Safety for Kids

Today I read that another dangerous product had been recalled-- the Best Friends charm bracelet, marketed to children in the U.S. As a consumer, an artisan, & a grandmother, I'm always shocked when a manufacturer anywhere knowingly exposes children to toxic products.

What preventive action is the U.S. taking to protect our kids? CPSIA -- nightmare legislation.

Since 2008, I've heard about CPSIA. It mandates that most raw materials & end-products obviously designed for "children" -- anyone under 13 -- be tested & certified as lead-free & phthalates-free. Presumably CPSIA will expand its list of banned materials periodically. Too bad that I don't have a law degree because without one, understanding the regs will be a challenge for any small business owner, however conscientious. This flowchart (not intended as legal advice) by the Handmade Toy Alliance makes some sense of dense pages of CPSIA legalese.

To understand what's terrible about the implementation of CPSIA regs, let's look at an example of the processing sequence from manufacturing to purchasing by the parent for a child. Assume I make & sell handmade jewelry for children. (Thankfully I don't & I won't! I created Ladybugs below, using copper wire, as a gift for my granddaughter.) Assume I want to buy a batch of mystery metal wire with a silver finish because it's cheap. Because that mystery wire is not obviously intended for children, all producers & sellers of that wire are exempt from testing it under CPSIA regs. I also buy a batch of generic-looking inexpensive clasps, spools of coated beading wire, and dozens of red ladybug resin beads. Except for the ladybug beads (clearly intended for children), all are exempt from testing like the mystery metal wire. BUT if I combine these components to create necklaces designed for children, I must certify that ALL the components are free of lead & specified chemicals. Assuming I received written certification when I bought the ladybug beads that they tested safe (since they were made for children), I must have 3 of my 4 components tested at roughly $100 per test so I can document the safety of this batch of ladybug necklaces. When I purchase a new batch of raw materials, I must re-test & re-certify my next batch of ladybug necklaces. Note that all businesses that buy the untested metal, beading wire, & clasps I described to create their own products designed for children must repeat the same expensive tests I did to comply with existing CPSIA. The goal of the law is spot-on, but the procedures are redundant, wasteful, & will either bankrupt small businesses & artisans OR drive them underground.
THE POLITICALLY-INCORRECT REALITY: We all know the source of most dangerous raw materials & finished products we import. But in our Country of Political Correctness, we pretend we don't! Instead of burdening our small businesses with testing, why not spot-check ANY cargo ships of any nation arriving with goods from China? Stop the dangerous goods at its points of entry into the U.S., as we successfully did with the Best Friends bracelets? Levy heavy fines, with a 3 Strikes You're Banned policy for any exporter in China who violates our regulations. Honestly, except for children's products exempt from CPSIA regs, I don't know why any small manufacturer or artisan would make products for children. They should seriously consider opening product-safety testing labs instead...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How to Flyfish -- NOT!

Besides my family & friends, I'm passionate about 3 things-- making jewelry, duplicate bridge, & fly fishing. But stuck with only 24 hour days, I haven't seen my fly rod in 2 years. So yesterday was The Day... an opportunity for creative renewal surrounded by Mother Nature in all her glory. That was the plan...
Parked by my favorite lake 2 hours out of town, I stuffed body & layers of clothes into tight waterproof waders (How did they shrink so much in just 2 years?!), blew up the float tube, grabbed my equipment, fly rod, lunch, life jacket, flippers & lucky hat, & launched myself into the cool, serene water. WHAT A GLORIOUS ESCAPE --tall evergreens surrounding the small, glistening lake, the occasional bald eagle, but especially the water rings all around me as large rainbows sipped bugs off the surface. Finally! A day to watch fish take my visible fly! What luck!

But the next 4 hours were a slap-stick comedy of my errors--
  • I discovered that I'd left my fishing reel at home.
  • The reel I then borrowed from a kind local fisherman fell apart when my first rainbow struck the fly.
  • I held the reel together to land the 2nd rainbow. YEAAA:)
  • As I was whining to my husband, who was fishing another part of the lake, about all my dumb mishaps, I forgot to hold the borrowed reel together. So its spool with 200' of fly line fell out of the reel, bounced off my float tube into the lake.
  • Luckily I retrieved the spool by pulling all 200' of its line into a rats nest onto my lap.
  • I spent the next 90 minutes unknotting the mess of line to wind it back on its spool-- all of this while sitting in my float tube in the lake.
  • I finally got the borrowed reel back together, kicked back into shore to return it to the kind man who lent it to me.
  • By then it was time for us to quit fishing & go home.

From a fishing standpoint, I've definitely had better days:)! However, it's hard to describe the beauty of fly fishing from a float tube, half in & half out of the the fish's world. Landing the fish & gently releasing it unharmed are a very personal & intimate experience for me. Although my special day was full of mishaps & frustrations, it was still magical.