CPSC Votes To Commence Rulemaking For High Powered Magnets

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has voted 4 – 0 to commence rulemaking for high-powered magnet sets.  According to the CPSC’s press release, CPSC staff estimate that small, high powered magnet sets were associated with 1,700 emergency room-treated injuries between 2009 and 2011, with the majority of injuries (70%) have been to children 4 to 12 years of age.

Of course, many of these magnet sets are marketed as sculptures, puzzles, and stress relievers and are labeled not for use by children. You may recall that the CPSC recently sued the maker of the Buckyballs and Buckycube desk toys – which were definitely not marketed to kids.  However, CPSC staff believes these magnet sets have strong appeal to children and pose a potential for high-severity injuries.  The CPSC has issued warnings regarding the hazards associated with these high powered magnets.

If swallowed, these magnets can link together inside a child’s intestines and clamp onto body tissues, causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis and death. Internal damage from magnets can pose serious lifelong health effects.

The CPSC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking indicates that such magnet sets will be prohibited if the set contains more than one magnet that fits through the small parts choking hazard tube unless the flux index is less than 50, as determined by the method set forth in ASTM F963-11.  The proposed rule has a 75 day public comment period.

The CPSC is specifically soliciting comment on the risks posed by magnets in science and craft kits. While I do believe the products with unexpected hazards require appropriate regulation, the key is appropriate regulation. I’m not sure a complete ban, without appropriate exclusions, is appropriate. Certainly I believe that science kits should be able to have high powered magnets, as long as appropriate warnings are provided.  Go comment, please.

Melissa & Doug Folding Princess Castle – Review and Giveaway

Well, it is that time of year. I don’t know about your kids, but my kids are asking for everything for Christmas that they see advertised. And almost all of them are plastic and commercially branded. Not particularly inspiring for imaginative play and not particularly earth friendly.

So, when I was approached to do a review of the Melissa and Doug Folding Princess Castle, I was thrilled. (So, yes, I was sent a free castle and doll set for review in the interest of full disclosure.) My daughter has been asking for a pink plastic Barbie castle, and I much preferred non-branded wood. So I accepted. The castle arrived, and it is PERFECT. My princess loves the painted pink accents and the castle’s flexibility. It includes two removable turrets, flying buttresses, and a working drawbridge.

My daughter loves it, and plays with it almost every night. At Thanksgiving, some of my daughter’s cousins joined us, and they were just as entranced with the Folding Princess Castle. Melissa and Doug also generously sent my the Royal Family Wooden Doll Set to review. The girls, my daughter included, love these as well. You should check out all of the Melissa and Doug Toy Castles.

The drawbacks – the drawbridge is a little difficult for my 5 year old doll to manipulate because it is stiff. And, my daughter thinks the painted features on the female royal family members is “too clown like.” Also, just expressed regret that the clothes cannot be removed from the royal family. 

From an environmental perspective, I do like that the castle and dolls are all wood. And, in my XRF testing experience, I haven’t had any lead or cadmium show up for Melissa and Doug Toys. I also love that the toys aren’t branded – I can escape the Disney Princesses or Barbie or any of the others for a little bit.

My daughter is so pleased with the castle, I’ve purchased for her the Princess Castle Furniture set to add to the castle for Christmas. You can check out all of the Melissa and Doug Toy Castles and accessories.

Now, bonus for my readers. I get to give away a Folding Princess Castle or Folding Medieval Castle (value $99 each – you get to pick ONE). It will be a random draw from comments. In the interest of trying (though no promises) to make this for Xmas, the contest is open until 11:59 pm on December 14, 2010. Leave a comment below with which you would prefer if you won. Winner to be notified by email.

If you want a bonus entry, follow Melissa and Doug on Twitter and let me know that you did or already do in a separate comment.

A Schleich Mommy Party & Giveaway

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I rarely do reviews. But when I was asked if I wanted to participate in  Schleich mommy party by MomSelect, I said yes. I’ll explain why in a second, but before I do, I want to disclose that I participated through MomSelect and Schleich generously donated a Party Pack to the party, which included many figurines to the party, as well as coloring sheets, keyrings with tiny pig figurines, and a Shadow Rock playset.

Okay, so why did I agree even though pushing product is inconsistent with my green message? Because my kids love the Schleich figures and playsets, and I love the imaginative play that they engage in when playing with Schleich. I love that the products aren’t tied to a move or cartoon character. Simple as that.

The Schleich figures are plastic, so they aren’t as environmentally-friendly as some toys. But they are free of hormone-disrupting phthalates and have been since 2000. Also, they paints they use are free of lead, and of the 200 or so figures I have personally tested using XRF, I haven’t detected lead.

Schleich has figures to satisfy and please almost any child. My son loved the dinosaurs when he was younger. My horse crazy daughter of course loves the realistic horses.

So I agreed to host a Schleich mommy party. While I had though 10 kids were showing up, I ended up with 22, so I didn’t get a lot of pictures at the beginning as I tried to regroup and make sure I had enough for everybody.

My daughter’s friends (mostly 4, 5 and 6) loved the horses and farm and wild animals the most.  Schleich provided some horses, some wild animals and some domestic farm animals. They spent almost 2 hours happily playing a variety of games – from having the animals act like a family, to going to the vet, to having school lessons.

My son’s friends (mostly 7 and 8) gravitated towards the Bayala figures, and set up a very intricate “war” scene with my son’s soldiers on one side and the Bayala figures on the other. From what I could tell, it seem to be derived from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Since the party, my daughter has expressed quiet an interest in the gentler Bayala figures, particularly the unicorns and pink/purple fairies. We saw the Schleich display at Target, and she asked for every gentle Bayala figure for Christmas. And she wants the Elf boat and Floral Umbrella she saw in the Schleich catalog.

So, what can I say? With the Switch Witch coming on 10/31, and the holiday season fast approaching, the Schleich figures are a great option to encourage imaginative play. The Bayala figures allow for imaginative play that fits in with contemporary cartoons/movies but doesn’t box kids in to a set storyline. The farm animals and wild animals are great for any child. There are vehicles and people and almost anything you can imagine. The price point is consistent with how well the figures last and how detailed they are.

And, best of all, you can win a figure just by leaving a comment below. I’ll randomly pick from the coments left a winner on November 11. The contest is open until 11:59 pm on November 10, 2010 (Pacific time). The winner can pick from the category of a farm animal or wild animal or Bayala figure (just one figure – I select what it is from the category). Open to US and Canadian residents only.

CPSC Extends CPSIA Lead Content Testing and Certification for another year!

XRF analyzer on toys

XRF analyzer on toys

I haven’t had time to digest this yet but I had to post that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has voted to extend the lead content testing and certification stay for an additional year, or until 2/10/11.  This should provide welcome relief to many, many manufacturers. This means while children’s products must meet the current standard of 300 ppm total lead content limit, manufacturers and importers will not have to begin 3rd party testing as of 2/10/10.

And, this means that XRF testing can continue to be use to verify compliance for many products. So, if you need testing, just let me know.

Good Guide Admits Used Wrong Test for Zhu Zhu; CPSC Finds No Violation

After I took a bunch of flack for raising concerns about Good Guide’s testing of a Zhu Zhu Pet and its applicability given that the applicable US standard is for soluble antimony, not total, I feel vindicated. Completely. Today, the Good Guide issued a press release admitting that it used the wrong test to compare its toy testing results to the US standard. If you didn’t read the first post, basically, Good Guide claimed that the wildly popular Mr. Squiggles was full of toxic antimony and violated US standards. But I cried foul, pointing out that the Good Guide was using XRF analysis, which only tests for total, and the applicable US standard for children’s toys is no more than 60 ppm soluble antimony in paints and coatings. So, the Good Guide’s claim that the Zhu Zhu Pet violated US standards based upon its XRF testing was patently false.

And today the Good Guide admitted that it used the wrong test to compare its results with the US standard. It stands by its results – and they are probably correct for what they are worth. The nose and fur of Mr. Squiggles may well have 93 and 106 ppm total antimony. But the Good Guide also admits that the US standard is for soluble antimony, and that it has no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Squiggles violates any US standard.

And then the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) confirmed that its review of the Zhu Zhu pet found no violation of the US standard for antimony.

Bottom line, it appears that Mr. Squiggles is in full compliance with existing US standards. Now, whether you are concerned about total antimony or not, that is a different question.

But, I’m still upset with the Good Guide and Dr. Dara O’Rourke. Both could have taken the time to have checked the relevant standards, assuming that this wasn’t a calculated effort to gain publicity by targeting the most popular holiday toy. Giving both the benefit of the doubt, I assume that they simply did not check the standard. Which is just amazing given the harm done by releasing these test results. Checking the relevant standard isn’t hard. In fact, it is right on the CPSC’s website for the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in the frequently asked questions.

Moreover, the XRF technician should have advised them as well. I certainly advise my clients how XRF results can be used and the limitations, including explaining the difference between soluble and total results. I can’t imagine that the XRF technician did not know.

So that leads me to believe that this was a calculated stunt – and they got caught. Ultimately, I believe the fallout will be detrimental to all our efforts to reform chemical regulation policy in the US as consumer advocacy groups are branded “eco freaks” with alarmist claims of toxicity? So, Good Guide, was it worth it? If your publicity grabbing stunt means that the Million Baby Crawl is unsuccessful, are you pleased?

But I’m also a little annoyed with Zhu Zhu Pets. CEO of Cepia LLC (manufacturer of Zhu Zhu Pets, Russ Hornsby, derides XRF testing as unsound. That statement is also inaccurate. XRF analysis, as found by the CPSC, is accurate and sound if used properly – for example, it is perfectly acceptable for testing total lead in homogenous plastic as long as the equipment is properly calibrated against a known standard. It is also a very useful screening tool, and is widely used for that purpose, particularly by the CPSC and other regulatory agencies. But, I certainly agree with Cepia that it does NOT accurately measure for soluble concentrations and is not meant for that purpose.

Zhu zhu pets, antimony, the Good Guide and misleading the public

Mr. SquigglesI have to say I’m more than a little upset about the recent publicity the Good Guide has achieved with its press release claiming that one of this year’s hottest toys – Zhu Zhu pets – contain dangerous levels of antimony. I mean, I want to support an effort like The Good Guide – giving the public ratings on the overall “greenness” of consumer products. But not if the organization is going to falsely claim a hazard.

Here’s the basic story – The Good Guide claims that Zhu Zhu pets are hazardous because antimony was detected at 103 parts per millinon (ppm) in one of the hamster’s fur, and 90 ppm in a nose, and The Good Guide asserts that the current standard is 60 ppm.

But that is wrong. The current US standard is 60 ppm soluble antimony in paints and surface coatings used on children’s toys, not total antimony. And that is a big difference. BIG difference. Reviewing the Good Guide’s listing for the basis for its rating, it states that antimony was detected using XRF technology. This is confirmed by Good Guide’s description of the toy testing efforts, wherein it states that the toys were tested using XRF. Now, if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know a I have a Niton XRF analyzer. And here’s the thing. As much as I love my XRF analyzer, it just can’t tell you soluble. At all. It only tells you total – total lead, total antimony, total mercury, etc. So the Good Guide is comparing apples and oranges, and raising a big stink. And that is wrong.

If you want to know, here is a description of the relevant standard for toys. It is a standard for heavy metals applicable only to paints and surface coatings, and applicable ONLY to toys  manufactured after 2/10/09. The description is from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):

The Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, ASTM F963-07 becomes a mandatory consumer product safety standard on February 10, 2009. This standard additionally places limits on the amount of lead (and other heavy metals, namely antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury and selenium) based on the soluble portion of that material using a specified extraction methodology given in the standard. Toys manufactured after February 10, 2009, will have to meet these requirements.

In other words, the standard is based upon the soluble (also sometimes referred to as the leachable) portion, and only that. And, by the way, you can only determine the soluble portion using extraction methods. XRF just doesn’t qualify.

The Good Guide’s reference to an inapplicable standard is just wrong. You can’t say a company is violating a standard that doesn’t apply.

Plus, it does all of our efforts to reform chemical safety laws a great disservice. You can only cry wolf so many times before people stop believing you. You can’t cry “wolf” when the standard doesn’t apply. You just can’t get soluble results from any XRF analyzer. So shame on the Good Guide.

I call out greenwashing all the time. It goes both ways, you know?

Countdown to Christmas: Green Gift Ideas

Majestic Lion

Majestic Lion

Despite Black Friday and even Cyber Monday, the first day of December can be eye-opening if you haven’t started getting ready for Christmas or any of the holidays celebrated at this time of year. If you haven’t bought or made a single present yet, you still have some time. Not much but some. And I’ve got some ideas for “greener” Christmas gifts, starting with books for everybody on your list. These are my picks based upon my library – virtually all books I purchased myself. However, full disclosure, the links to the books in Amazon are through my affiliate account, so I’ll get 0.04% back or something like that if you order.

Okay, one of my all time favorite green books for kids is The Lorax (Classic Seuss). The Lorax is a chilling tale warning of the dangers of clear-cutting and pollution, yet told in Dr. Seuss’ whimsical rhyming. The plight of the Truffula Tree tufts, chopped down to produce and mass market Thneeds, and the resulting devastation is a moral we should all heed. Encourage a budding environmentalist with this Dr. Seuss classic. Another option is When Santa Turned Green, which encourages each child to take steps to reduce climate change.

For the teen on  your gift list, try Jenn Savedge’s The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Saving the Planet. A great gift for a teen concerned about going green, Jenn’s book is filled with tips, resources and advice.

For the foodie on your list, you might try Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It. Another favorite is Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (P.S.). If you have a foodie who is also a history buff, Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee is a very interesting read.

For history buffs generally, or those that enjoy an interesting read, I loved Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution (California/Milbank Books on Health and the Public). Other favorites include The Secret History of the War on Cancer, When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales Of Environmental Deception And The Battle Against Pollution, and Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.

For the Martha Stewart wannabe on your list, Anna Getty’s I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas: Gifts, Decorations, and Recipes that Use Less and Mean More is the perfect gift!

For those that appreciate majestic photography, I think Nick Brandt’s books are just amazing. If his majestic images don’t inspire you to protect this Earth, then I don’t know what will. Try On This Earth: Photographs from East Africa or A Shadow Falls. Or another favorite is Paul Niclen’s Polar Obsession.

Okay, I’ll have some more recommendations tomorrow!

5 Simple Steps for Summer Toy Safety

summer beach toysSchool is almost out and the lazy days of summer are here. Well, perhaps lazy isn’t accurate if you are a mom – summer can just mean listening to whines of “I’m so boooored” (drawn out as only a child can do) or schlepping from one activity to the next.

But summer should be about play. About discovering tadpoles turning into frogs in the local pond. About poking bugs, turning over rocks, or swinging from swings. Long afternoons perfecting a skateboard trick. Hosting outdoor tea parties for dolls. And, summer means bringing out the summer toys. Dump trucks, gardening spades, sand pails.


Outdoor play is great to keep kids healthy. But, before you turn the kids loose, review these easy steps to take to make summer play a littler safer from Malcolm Denniss, Technical Director for SGS Consumer Testing Services.
1)      Check the protective gear. My 6 year old can already do some wicked tricks on his skateboard, but he wears protective gear. Malcolm emphasizes that protective gear is most important for kids out on their bikes, skate boards and other riding toys. Of course, helmets must fit correctly. He reminds us to make sure that last year’s helmet still fits before using it. 

2)      Use the right protective gear. Malcolm urges parents to make sure that they use the right gear. Remember there are different types of helmet for different activities. 

3)      Teach kids to stay safe. Malcolm believes kids can always use a reminder to stay away from traffic areas such as roads parking lots and driveways. 

4)      Pool safety.  With summer comes pool fun. However, Malcolm advises that all pools should be properly protected with fences and self closing gates to ensure very young children cannot access the pool without adult supervision. 

5)      Check outdoor toys. Toys left outside weather. Before you let kids play with sand toys, dump trucks, gardening tools and other outdoor play items, just check them over carefully to make sure they haven’t deteriorated. A quick check can tell you whether a metal truck is rusty and has sharp edges. 

Animalz Toys – Organic Maple – at Target

Well, I just got back from shopping at Target and was surprised to find Animalz in the Toy section.  Animalz are natural wooden anmals made from organic maple at a pretty good price point.  I picked up the horse for my nephew for $5.99.  Target had toys from the Safari line and the Farm line.  Target also had a 3 piece play set of Artic animals.  I was pretty excited to find such a great product at a large retailer like Target.  I was excited when my Target started carrying Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products.  But this makes me very happy.

New round of toy recalls for lead paint – what’s a parent to do?

That's hard to say. 

It is certain that lead can cause brain damage, lowering IQs and causing developmental delays, amont other health effects.  Very high levels of lead can cause death, such as a child swallowing a lead jewelry charm (as unfortunately happened last year).  Recent health studies have demonstrated that even low blood lead levels (below the current level of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood) can cause signicant health problems, including lowered IQ.  The recent consensus is that there is no safe level of lead in the blood.

But how much lead do children get from toys?  That's hard to say.  There is no reliable way for a parent to know how much lead is in a particular toy.  The lead check test kits tell you whether lead is present or not, but don't tell you how much.  And it is difficult to assess how much exposure a child gets from handling or mouthing the toy.

Lead exposure is also cumulative, and there are many other sources.  Lead is present in homes from historic use in paint.  This is probably the most significant source.  We also get lead contaminated dust blown into our homes from weathering from homes, bridges, and other structures, and its use in gasoline.  Lead is present in drinking water.  Lead is found in high levels in some herbal remedies.  It is used to stabilize polyvinyl chloride plastic.  We also bring lead into the home from occupational exposure and hobbies.

So, what can you do to reduce expoure?  The simplest solution is eliminate sources.  If you work in a field that may have lead exposure, change your clothes and your shoes before you enter the home.  To avoid tracking in lead contaminated dust, use a good welcome mat or take off your shoes.  If you have an older home (built before 1978) and have lead paint, keep your paint in good condition.  Do not renovate, remodel, sand, etc., without addressing the lead paint.  Wash your hands frequently to remove lead dust.  Wet wipe surfaces to remove lead dust.  And, difficult as it may be, get rid of any recalled toys.  You may also want to check other toys for lead.