Science and Technology News

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Santa Checks THIS List--Do You?

by Monte Nace
Staff Writer

11/19/2013 - Winter 2013/2014 -- Have you seen the Facebook post or received the email about the "miracle children" who survived growing up in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s? Here's a snippet:

· First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.

· Then we slept in baby cribs covered with brightly colored lead-based paints.

· We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors, or cabinets.

· As children, we rode in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

The list goes on, and it is surprising that so many kids survived childhood unscathed in those decades. But others did not--some children indeed suffered from what we now know as fetal alcohol syndrome, some became ill from ingesting lead-based paint, and some died because of accidental poisonings or vehicle accidents. Of course, once parents knew better, they did better!

We certainly live in a different world today. We're constantly inundated with information from scientific studies, and the federal government (to some degree) regulates many things we do and nearly every product we buy. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

As you're shopping for holiday gifts, I'll bet you take time (either online or in person) to compare prices. And if you're like me, you'll take time to read reviews to see how other buyers like certain brands or models of toys, appliances, and other potential presents. So why not spend a little more time and let that government oversight work for you by learning about the hazards of items that might be on your shopping list?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the federal agency charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of consumer products. According to the CPSC website, deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $900 billion annually. Unlike reviews written by consumers, who typically rate a particular item based on how much they like it or whether it meets their expectations, the CPSC's concern is whether an item is safe.

If you go to the CPSC website at and click on Recalls, you'll see a short list of recent recalls with a link to others. For example, one list in July included:

· an office chair from a well-known office supply store (the base of the five-wheel chairs can break and cause the user to fall)

· a computer for divers (the computer can malfunction and display incorrect tank pressure, leading to a drowning hazard)

· a hammock (seam in the canvas hammock can rip and cause a fall)

· a remote-controlled helicopter from a popular toy store (the rechargeable battery can overheat, causing fire and burn hazards)

· small lamps with stained glass shades in the shape of a butterfly or shell (exposed wiring can cause shock and fire hazards)

As you can tell from the list, the types of products and the associated risks vary greatly.

These are only five of the recall notices for the first two weeks of July in 2013. Other items that month included votive candles, a bicycle, a baby rattle, a track lighting fixture, an off-road vehicle, a laptop battery, an outdoor chair, a baby stroller, a propane cooker, a coffee cup, and many more. Look long enough, and you'll probably find something on the list that you own!

Other ways to search for recall notices include searching the CPSC website by Product Category (e.g., Babies and Kids, Sports and Recreation, Toys, etc.), searching by Product/Company Name, or searching by Country Where Manufactured. Many--but not all--recalled products are made in China. That doesn't make them inherently bad. In fact, trying to find products that aren't made in China can be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the value of U.S. toy imports, including stuffed toys (such as dolls), puzzles, and electric trains from China between January and September 2012 was well over $9 billion.

Pre-lit trees and ornaments may pose serious risks if they are defective.

In addition to visiting the CPSC website, you can elect to receive recall announcements by email, subscribe by RSS feed, or download a recall app (Android). At the very least, reading these recalls will make you think about potential risks associated with similar products that are on your shopping list. Also, watch for CPSC recall notices after the holidays in case you receive a gift that is subsequently found unsafe. Have a happy (and safe) holiday season!


THE CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION has jurisdiction over many types of consumer products. However, some products are covered by other federal agencies. For example, automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles are within the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation; food, drugs (except for child resistant-packaging for these products) and cosmetics are covered by the Food and Drug Administration.

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