Unintended Consequences, Take Two

One of the dangers of blogging is that occasionally you write something too quickly believing you are getting your point across, but you unintentionally leave out some important details or inartfully word your thoughts.

My dear friend and the Executive Director of her nonprofit foundation, Kids in Danger, had concerns about my previous post, titled Unintended Consequences.  This is the response the ED wrote to my post and I’ve asked permission to reprint it here:

While it is impossible to eliminate all risk from our children’s lives, the recalls and deaths in the past ten years have shown us that too little has been done to make children’s products safe.  While I might expect that my child will be injured while out riding a bike or even learning to walk around the living room, one doesn’t expect a crib to collapse, killing a child or pajamas to be covered with a decal containing toxic lead.  The CPSIA, passed last year, will make children safer by requiring products to be tested prior to sale.  During the implementation phase of the law, many companies that never tested their products will have to start and some products, that can’t be certified as safe, will not be able to be sold, even at a thrift store.  But the law contains within it the ability for CPSC to exempt certain products, give guidance to industry on implementation and set rules in such a way to limit the economic harm to small businesses or nonprofit thrift stores.  There are small businesses and thrift stores all over the country that are already working to bring their products into compliance and offer consumers safe products.  Consumer groups who advocated for the bill along with the representatives from the second hand market and others are working on real solutions, which will keep our kids safe and work for business.

I’d like to clarify my point about unintended consequences and why I think politicians need to be thoughtful when writing laws.  I’m certain I might still disagree with my friend a bit on some of these details, but this reflects what I believe.

First, I think companies who profit from knowingly selling dangerous children’s products should immediately be put out of business.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it. 

Here’s the problem I have with the current bill being widely discussed in the media, and I’d like to note that this portion of the bill is not the part named for my friend’s son, Danny.  I couldn’t find hard, reliable data on the number of children who have died from lead poisoning contained in/on clothing, so what follows will be somewhat anectodal.  I was able to find one child who died several years ago from a charm he swallowed containing lead.  The charm was a bit of decoration on his shoes.  It’s possible there have been more deaths, but I wasn’t able to verify them.  From what I could uncover, lead might be found in the ink used to print clothing labels, but it is more likely to be found in painted buttons or embellishments used on children’s clothing.  I also wasn’t able to verify whether lead is ever found woven into the fabric itself.

My point is why not write a law so new products are certified lead-free during the manufacturing process and then allow re-sale/thrift shops to cut out children’s labels and/or discard only those clothes with painted buttons, etc.  Or allow the resaler to remove the buttons forcing the buyer to replace them with certifiably lead-free ones.

I have no children so I probably won’t be following this issue as closely as those who do, but the media is continuing to report that many small businesses and re-sale shops will be put out of business because of this law, and tons of otherwise perfectly good children’s clothing will go to the landfills because of the associated cost of testing for lead.  It is my belief that lawmakers would garner more general support if, by fixing one problem affecting a smaller number of people, they didn’t replace it by creating a larger problem affecting many.  I don’t really trust the media to get the message right, so I can’t say with certainty that the CPSC is interpreting the law in a way that will force these businesses to close.

And finally, my question remains:  how do you put a price on a human life?  My loved ones’ lives are priceless to me, but, unfortunately, they aren’t priceless to everyone.  If they were, we would have outlawed cellphone use in moving vehicles years ago. 

And for the record, this doesn’t mean my friend shouldn’t be doing everything in her power to make children’s products safer.

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