January 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm #1962
A device tests the lead content in a product that was found to be deficient
and then seized at the Port of Houston earlier this month.
Photo: Eric Kayne / 2011 Eric Kayne
Houston and Texas
Consumer safety inspectors at the Port of Houston have seized more toys deemed unsafe for children – largely because of choking hazards and lead paint – than almost any other consumer product imported to the United States, second only to fireworks.
The toys, 25,000 of them, are among 117,000 foreign products like mattresses, electronic devices, lighters, bike helmets and all-terrain vehicles confiscated in Houston by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission from 2010 through 2011.
Even now, dozens of boxes of toy bears imported from China are parked at an inspection station on North Wayside Road.
“If the bear’s nose and eyes can be easily pulled off, those small parts could choke children,” said David McCabe, the compliance investigator at the port as he pulled parts from a toy bear to test them in a cylinder. “Anything that fits in the cylinder is too risky for children to play with.”
Nationwide, 19 investigators assigned to the busiest ports have confiscated, among other things, toy guns, cars, trucks, helicopters and dolls containing lead paint, lead content, phthalates and small parts deemed dangerous. Phthalates are chemicals used in plastics and other products.
“In response to the lead in paint recalls in 2007, CPSC started to place investigators at key ports of entry full time,” said Carol Cave, the director of the Office of Import Surveillance and Inspection.
Faced with a swell of concern and 45 million children’s toys and products recalled about five years ago, Congress in 2008 boosted the budget of the CPSC and required it to set up a website where consumers can both register complaints and read reports posted by others.
“We think the products being turned back stopped people from shipping stuff here in the first place. Now they’re not sure if they are able to get in,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Chicago-based Kids in Danger, a consumer advocacy group. “It’s a very effective program to keep unsafe toys from our children.”
Lead is believed to cause both brain damage and behavioral problems in children. A number of studies have linked phthalates to early puberty in girls, genital defects and reduced testosterone production in boys.
In 2010, there were 17 toy-related deaths and 181,500 injuries among children of 15 or younger, according a CPSC report. Eleven of the deaths were from asphyxiation or choking.
Most seized products come from China, although collaboration with the Chinese government has reduced the number of recalls, officials said. CPSC established an office in Beijing last year to make it easier to communicate with Chinese officials about safety problems, like toxic metals in toys.
Currently, 45 percent of imported consumer products and 90 percent of toys sold in the United States come from China and Hong Kong.
Products from South America like jewelry also are stopped for containing lead or cadmium.
The Port of Houston imports more foreign waterborne tonnage than any other U.S. port. McCabe is responsible for inspecting 150 shipments a year, or one every other day.
With the ongoing Panama Canal expansion project, the number of containers handled by the Port of Houston through the canal could grow by 15 percent in the next few years, according to the Houston Port Authority.
Determining whether a foreign shipment should be destroyed is a stringent process.
CPSC investigators first test the product with tools in the field and send product samples to labs in Maryland.
“The lab will use a device that mimics a child’s strength to try to pull the eyes and noses from the bear, which can produce a precise result,” said McCabe.
January 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm #4736
Here is update news article on pollution & safety hazards of imports from China being ignored by US trade commission.
The Good news is that – CPSC is taking proactive action against dangerous toys & products coming into Port Houston with lead or choking hazards. Seems like overwhelming taks given volume and numbers (+25000 sized in this effort alone) ….. but major question I have is why are we absorbing this cost and task at all??
The Bad news is that – Clearly this is all because US is not taking action aginst China who is real source of these dangerous products. The article points out that 45% all products and 90% all toys are from China and that 5 years ago nearly 45 million toys (from China) had be recalled – but lot blow-back went to importers like Toys R US and not the China producers.
While Congress did increase budget of CPSC for its efforts in 2008 ……. it lacked courage to block such future exports from China until they demonstrate they aren’t going poision US consumers due lead in everything from toys to containers and antifreeze in toothpaste (used wrong glycol making it).
When US slips up and lets in Canadian cow into our US feedlots that then is shown to have “Mad Cow” – Japan & everyone else blocks US beef exports for couple years. Since China is now a WTO member (at least on paper if not in responsible actions) – why have we not sanctioned/blocked or put high tariff against thier imports to cover cost of the search & recall??
Too little, much too late and working on symptoms not cause of this crisis/issue.
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