Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Results of March 8 XRF testing at my resale store

I can't say enough good things about Tony Osborn of CBRNE Technologies. Very knowledgeable and professional and personable to boot.

The torrential rains worked hard to keep people away from my store but we went forward with the XRF testing in spite of it. There were only a few members of the public who showed up to take advantage of learning more about lead in consumer products. These folks came from consignment and thrift stores and were interested to find out more about this topic. It was good to see that there are a few organizations who truly care enough about the safety of the items that they sell to get more first-hand information. I was disappointed that more people did not show up because I had hoped to raise money for the Northern Illinois Food Bank Kids Backpack Program.

In addition to media coverage in the Naperville Sun and the Chicago Tribune local section, I also sent out nearly 800 invitations via my email newsletter and Twitter notices went out. Nancy Cowles from Kids In Danger did come out (thanks Nancy!) to be supportive in our quest for information and education. She brought a Reebok charm bracelet similar to the one that the child from Minnesota died from ingesting. Interestingly, the charm on the one she brought passed the XRF test but the clasp failed.

Tony showed us the Niton XRF gun and explained how it works. He showed us how two items that look identical can be so different when it comes to lead content. One children's cup tested at no detectable lead content while the other one that looked identical, failed miserably. This highlights the fact that to be certain, each and every item would have to be tested, not just a sampling. So any results we saw cannot be extrapolated to apply to any other items.

He tested many items in my store and the results were surprising to me. I had been told that raincoats and rain boots were highly suspect but all the raincoats in my store tested as safe. Rain boots did not, but Tony mentioned that lead is used in them to reduce the growth of mold which seems like a desired property in rain boots! I think the health hazard of mold is more likely than that posed by the possibility of lead ingestion from these boots. We did not find a lot of fails in the shoe section other than the rain boots.

We moved onto the toy section and most toys, even painted wood ones (made in USA), passed. We did see failures in some painted wood toys (made in China), however as well as some eyes in stuffed animals. So in spite all the focus on 'toxic toys', our results showed very few failures in this area. We did not spend much time on equipment such as strollers and high chairs but found no failures in the ones tested.

The children's clothing area is the one that my customers need the most and consequently where we spent the most time. We spent a considerable amount of time testing zippers, snaps and buttons in children's clothing and found many failures, particularly in buttons. Brand names with problems included Ralph Lauren, Child's Place, Gymboree, Carters and Osh Kosh. Zippers were a mixed bag with some passes and some failures. We did not find any failures with snaps but admittedly, did not have the time to test numerous samples. Snaps and zippers seem far less likely to be ingested so buttons are more of a concern (to me, anyway). Having heard that they were a potential problem, we tested all the 'fake pearls' we could find but found no failures.

We did find some older books to test with the only failure being Horton Hears A Who from the 1940s. That was interesting.

Some items that are made by local crafters passed, including hair clips, washcloth and bib 'faux suckers' for gift decoration, and plastic jewelry. Some charm bracelets failed.

I did not expect this experience to give me answers that would direct my actions. I just wanted to see for myself the extent of the problem in my store. The overall results were in line with what could have been predicted but I just feel more confident making decisions for my future, having seen it for myself. And it did reinforce that there is really no way to know which items are in compliance and as the limits continue to reduce the allowed level of lead, it will become more difficult and there will be even more failures.

I have begun a transition from children's items to teen and women's items and will continue to do so. I will continue to write to my government representatives in spite of their nonresponsiveness and do what I can to fight CPSIA for all children's industries. I don't see a good future for children's resale though because it is becoming increasingly difficult to operate. Checking each and every item for recalls and other compliance is already a difficult task (About 30,000 items pass through my store each year) and the extremely small margins that come from selling these items don't justify the potential liability of missing just one thing and thereby being forced into bankruptcy. That is not a reasonable business environment. All this while other organizations blatantly ignore the law and/or mislead the public about the safety of their products and achieve a competitive advantage by doing do. My customers are confused by the mixed information and become frustrated when I try to educate them and need to refuse items that I have accepted in the past and others are still accepting.

I will carry children's items in the short term and continue to watch this issue with great interest to see if the law changes as a result of the increasingly vocal contingent of businesses and people that are adversely impacted by it. I hope that it changes enough to allow me to continue to offer great children's items at an affordable price to many who need that. There are so many great people that I have met on Twitter that are doing so much to spread the word by writing eloquent blog entries and reaching out to government officials and media representatives to raise awareness of these issues. Without them, I would have surely given up by now. I am encouraged by the efforts of Rick Woldenberg who has organized hearings on Capitol Hill on April 1st in spite of the deaf ear the Congress has towards the problems with CPSIA.


Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, did you test store brands like things from Walmart, Kmart, Sears and Penny's. Were there failures in those items also. A larger or smaller ratio?

Rick Woldenberg said...

Connie, I am sorry you feel the need to abandon the Children's market, although I can fully understand why. You will not be the last. Perhaps someday when some younger Members of Congress are unable to get products for their children and their particular needs, they will ask how the American market could fail to see the "need" for the products they want or need. Hmmm. Wonder why. . . .


Anonymous said...

seems to be that the law should be enforced on the button makers and not the clothing makers!! It is not reasonable for our lawmakers to put pressure on the middle of the supply chain-when the only way to solve the problem is to enforce it at the beginning of the supply chain!