More CPSIA overkill: lowering lead limits

by Walter Olson on July 17, 2011

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By a 3-2 party line vote, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has voted to lower already infinitesimal thresholds of lead permitted in children’s products to 100 parts per million. The main impact will not be on surface paints or other flakable/chewable hazards to the youngest users, but on “substrate” elements such as metal alloys employed in such objects as bicycle parts, school binders, and ballpoint pens, an even wider swath of which will be hard to sell or resell without breaking the law. [Bloomberg; commissioners Nord, Northup; Woldenberg, more and yet more]

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Walter Crane, The Baby’s Opera (1876), courtesy BabylonBaroque.

{ 10 comments }

1 Richard Nieporent 07.17.11 at 9:44 am

Given the intelligence of these commissioners, I’m only surprised that they haven’t banned lead pencils.

2 John Burgess 07.17.11 at 12:35 pm

@Richard: Give them time and they’ll get there. The only logorithmic curve sharper than the decline of the US economy is that of the rising idiocy of elected officials. And cable TV hosts, of course.

3 Jim Finkel 07.17.11 at 12:56 pm

@ Richard: Speaking as an engineer, surely you realize the “lead” in a pencil is actually graphite — a form of carbon. Where there might be lead is in the ferrule holding the eraser on or in a mechanical pencil, the small clamp that holds the graphite stick (even though it is called a lead) may have some lead in the brass/bronze also. And I have seen this referred to obliquely, but a modern bicycle (are we not supposed to save “energy” by riding a bike?) has a lot of lead. Each cable ending for brakes and gear shift cables is lead. Most spoke nipples contain lead to make then machinable. So spare parts are now deemed to be deadly? Is it not also deadly in the short term to ride a bike without brakes? And if kid sized ATVs are illegal because of the lead content, then we will have kids riding adult sized ATVs. Do those kids/parents feel safer when small hands and bodies cannot reach the brakes/accelerator/gearshift and the kid gets tossed?

4 Smart Dude 07.17.11 at 4:50 pm

Odd that these hyper-regulators have not gone after the new mercury toxic allegedly energy efficient light bulbs their fellow bureaucrats have mandated.

A study by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency found that when one of these mandated light bulbs breaks, it emits levels of toxic vapor up to 20 times higher than the safe guideline limit for an indoor area.

If a bulb is smashed, the UK’s Health Protection Agency advice is for householders to evacuate the room and leave it to ventilate for 15 minutes.

5 Bumper 07.17.11 at 5:17 pm

Keeping in mind that the “government” single-handedly caused the demise of tungsten bulb manufacturing in the US, a few months back a congressman read the EPA rules for dealing with a fluorescent bulb breakage on the floor of the house. The end result was that if you really, really wanted to bring “government” to a halt, you’d just throw a few “energy-saving, made in China fluorescent bulbs” in chambers and offices inside the beltway. Poetic justice it would be!

6 Richard Nieporent 07.17.11 at 6:15 pm

The EPA has developed a simple set of rules on what to do when the government mandated CFL bulb breaks.

1. Put on rubber, nitrile or latex gloves.
2. If there are any broken pieces of glass or sharp objects, pick them up with care. Place all broken objects on a paper towel. Fold the paper towel and place in a zip lock bag. Secure the bag and label it as directed by your local health or fire department.
3. Locate visible mercury beads. Use a squeegee or cardboard to gather mercury beads. Use slow sweeping motions to keep mercury from becoming uncontrollable. Take a flashlight, hold it at a low angle close to the floor in a darkened room and look for additional glistening beads of mercury that may be sticking to the surface or in small cracked areas of the surface. Note: Mercury can move surprising distances on hard-flat surfaces, so be sure to inspect the entire room when “searching.”
4. Use the eyedropper to collect or draw up the mercury beads. Slowly and carefully squeeze mercury onto a damp paper towel. Place the paper towel in a zip lock bag and secure. Make sure to label the bag as directed by your local health or fire department.
5. After you remove larger beads, put shaving cream on top of small paint brush and gently “dot” the affected area to pick up smaller hard-to-see beads. Alternatively, use duct tape to collect smaller hard-to-see beads. Place the paint brush or duct tape in a zip lock bag and secure. Make sure to label the bag as directed by your local health or fire department.
6. OPTIONAL STEP: It is OPTIONAL to use commercially available powdered sulfur to absorb the beads that are too small to see. The sulfur does two things: (1) it makes the mercury easier to see since there may be a color change from yellow to brown and (2) it binds the mercury so that it can be easily removed and suppresses the vapor of any missing mercury. Where to get commercialized sulfur? It may be supplied as mercury vapor absorbent in mercury spill kits, which can be purchased from laboratory, chemical supply and hazardous materials response supply manufacturers.
Note: Powdered sulfur may stain fabrics a dark color. When using powdered sulfur, do not breathe in the powder as it can be moderately toxic. Additionally, users should read and understand product information before use.
7. If you choose not to use this option, you may want to request the services of a contractor who has monitoring equipment to screen for mercury vapors. Consult your local environmental or health agency to inquire about contractors in your area. Place all materials used with the cleanup, including gloves, in a trash bag. Place all mercury beads and objects into the trash bag. Secure trash bag and label it as directed by your local health or fire department.
8. Contact your local health department, municipal waste authority or your local fire department for proper disposal in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
9. Remember to keep the area well ventilated to the outside (i.e., windows open and fans in exterior windows running) for at least 24 hours after your successful cleanup. Continue to keep pets and children out of cleanup area. If sickness occurs, seek medical attention immediately. View information on health effects related to exposures to vapors from metallic mercury. For additional information on health effects, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) provides a Mercury Fact Sheet that also presents information on health effects related to exposures to vapors from metallic mercury.

http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/

I’m only surprised that they don’t send a hazmat team to your house.

7 Bumper 07.18.11 at 3:19 am

Once they get the Hazmat teams properly unionized, they probably will be sending them over. Think of them more as roving TSA agents.

8 OL fan 07.18.11 at 9:31 am

Richard Nieporent’s material from the EPA specifies cleanup steps for a broken mercury thermometer which, according to the EPA, has about 100 times the mercury of a CFL.

That said, the EPA’s specification for CFL cleanup at http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup-detailed.html is, given the smaller amount of mercury involved, even more absurd. God save us from these regulators. Either CFL’s are being pushed on us even though they are clearly significant bio hazards or the EPA is way over the top in their specified response to breakage.

====================== from the EPA site

Before Cleanup

Have people and pets leave the room, and avoid the breakage area on the way out.

Open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.

Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb:
Stiff paper or cardboard
Sticky tape (e.g., duct tape)
Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces)
Glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or a sealable plastic bag(s)

Cleanup Steps for Hard Surfaces

Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag. (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)
etc,etc

This goes on far too long for a comment to a blog entry. Read the whole thing at the URL above.

9 ras 07.19.11 at 4:55 pm

Perhaps the obviously dangerous job of changing a lightbulb could be legally restricted to properly trained, 3-person, union-certified teams.

10 DensityDuck 07.20.11 at 2:33 pm

Of course it looks silly and overwritten.

Imagine if you had to write a procedure for taking a dump. Make sure that you include both squeezing force and wiping methods for all possible stool consistencies, quantities, and failure modes (like sharting or bloody butt.) Also ensure that you have sections providing a process for estimating total quantity and determining when a double-flush is necessary.

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