Monday, November 22, 2010

Lots of Lead and Cadmium in Kids' Tableware: Spiffy

"Toxic Metals Found in Kids' Drinking Glasses"
Associated Press, via (November 22, 2010)

"Drinking glasses depicting comic book and movie characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman and the Tin Man from 'The Wizard of Oz' exceed federal limits for lead in children's products by up to 1,000 times, according to laboratory testing commissioned by The Associated Press.

"The decorative enamel on the superhero and Oz sets -- made in China and purchased at a Warner Brothers Studios store in Burbank -- contained between 16 percent and 30.2 percent lead. The federal limit on children's products is 0.03 percent.

"The same glasses also contained relatively high levels of the even-more-dangerous cadmium, though there are no federal limits on that toxic metal in design surfaces...."

Lead and Cadmium on Tableware: How Bad Can It be?

The Lemming gets interested - but not necessarily worried - in headlines like "POISON IN YOUR DRINKING WATER?" I also get interested in headlines like "SPACE ALIENS AT OSCAR AWARDS!" Whether or not the Lemming takes an article seriously depends on several things, including how sensational it is, whether there's a context given for numbers given, and quite a few other factors.

Let's say the was in the supermarket checkout line and saw "LEAD FOUND IN TEACUPS!" I'd be interested - and would probably see what another news service had to say on the subject. Like Reuters, the BBC, or The Associated Press: folks whose livelihood depends on hanging on to at least a few shreds of credibility.

It's not cynicism. It's a smattering of knowledge.

There are trace amounts of just about everything in the food we eat, the utensils we use: and in us. Take iodine, for example. It's toxic. In large doses. Americans use iodized salt because human metabolism requires tiny amounts of iodine to function well. Folks living near oceans get it in seafood - which has fascinating implications regarding where we came from. And that's another topic.

The AP article cites the amount of lead found in some tableware - at "between 16 percent and 30.2 percent."

That's a number. Interesting, but not - alone - terribly informative. The AP also gives a context for that number. For lead: "The federal limit on children's products is 0.03 percent."

So, the lead levels are 10 times the minimum allowed level.

That doesn't sound good: and it isn't.

Turns out there's cadmium in some made-in-China products, too. In excessive, illegal amounts.

Bottom line? Lead and cadmium are everywhere, so "zero tolerance" makes as much sense in product regulations as it does anywhere else. But high levels of these metals are not good for people.

Here's some background:
  • "Cadmium"
    Toxic Substances Portal, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services (September, 2008)
  • "Cadmium"
    Fact Sheet, National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services
  • "Lead: Topic Home"
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services

Lead and Cadmium in Tableware: Not, Apparently, a Small Problem

Okay, so a handful of products have too much lead. Big deal. Recall them, and move on.

Good idea: Just one problem.

It's not just those glasses. Some of the other brands involved are: Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Burger King, and McDonald's. Coca-Cola has recalled the products fingered by the AP - the Lemming's guess is that the others will, too. This is a recent development.

The problem is that quite a few of these products are used by kids. Toxic paint can flake off, get on their hands - and then into their mouths, where the metals get into their systems and stay there.

Adults can be affected, too, but since metal poisoning is a cumulative thing - we don't have as long to build up dangerous levels. Kids do.

Old-School News: Sometimes They Get It Right

The Lemming doesn't have the good old fashioned notion that 'they wouldn't print it, if it wasn't true' attitude. My respect for journalism is - somewhat conditional. And that's yet another topic.

That said, in this case the AP seems to have done what journalists are supposed to do: collect data, analyze what they've found, and see if their conclusions can be verified.

Then rushing into print.

Like this time. The AP even detailed how the reporters arrived at their conclusion.

"...The AP testing was part of the news organization's ongoing investigation into dangerous metals in children's products and was conducted in response to a recall by McDonald's of 12 million glasses this summer because cadmium escaped from designs depicting four characters in the latest 'Shrek' movie.

"The New Jersey manufacturer of those glasses said in June that the products were made according to standard industry practices, which includes the routine use of cadmium to create red and similar colors. That same company, French-owned Arc International, made the glasses that Coca-Cola said it was pulling.

"To assess potential problems with glass collectibles beyond the 'Shrek' set, AP bought and analyzed new glasses off the shelf, and old ones from online auctions, thrift shops and a flea market. The buys were random...."

"...The irony of the latest findings is that AP's original investigation in January revealed that some Chinese manufacturers were substituting cadmium for banned lead in children's jewelry; that finding eventually led to the McDonald's-Shrek recall; now, because of the new testing primarily for cadmium in other glassware, lead is back in the spotlight as well.

"AP's testing, conducted by ToyTestingLab of Rhode Island, found that the enamel used to color the Tin Man had the highest lead levels, at 1,006 times the federal limit for children's products. Every Oz and superhero glass tested exceeded the government limit: The Lion by 827 times and Dorothy by 770 times; Wonder Woman by 533 times, Superman by 617 times, Batman by 750 times and the Green Lantern by 677 times...."
(Associated Press, via

There's quite a great deal more in the AP article, as found of's website - and in the AP-on-Google version of the same AP story.

China, Business, and Poisoning Your Customers

The Lemming doesn't particularly like regulations. In large part because some are - daft, to be polite about it. (Remember the TSA's latest SNAFU? (Monday, November ))

On the other hand, Federal bureaucrats aren't the only nitwits around:Regulatory agencies get started for a reason. Sometimes the regulations even make sense.

Like keeping lead and cadmium levels in tableware down to comparatively safe levels.
Business 101: Don't Poison Your Customers
You'd think that someone who runs a company would realize that it's not a good idea to poison the customers. Or, as in some recent cases, end users.

But as the disgusting cases of the poison peanuts and sickening eggs demonstrated: running a company doesn't magically endow a person with common sense.

It must seem like a smart idea, to some of these folks, to cut costs - or make a product look better - or avoid the fuss and bother of cleaning rat poo out of the food factory - and hope for the best.

It's not just end users who suffer.

Folks who work for innovatively suicidal nitwits like the poison peanut king and the salmonella-egg dude sometimes lose their jobs, or their health. The boss doesn't always emerge unscathed, either.

The last I heard, some chaps over in China who put melamine in baby food and other products were on death row. The stuff registers on tests as a protein, so they got better prices for 'high protein' food. Then people started dying. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 4, 2008)

My guess is that the folks running China aren't happy with what the melamine mess did to their reputation - and cash flow.

Then there's the matter of lead and cadmium in tableware.

The Lemming doesn't think that everybody should start making their own 'hand thrown pottery jars.' Remember Larry Groce and "Junk Food Junkie?" Yet again another topic.

Toxic Tableware: Something to Monitor

The Lemming is also pretty sure that lead and cadmium in tableware isn't 'some kinda plot.' As my father used to say: 'Never ascribe to malice, what can be explained by stupidity.' Or world-class nitwittery.

A common-sense approach to this seems to be keeping an eye on the news: and panning for those nuggets of fact.

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