Posted by: zycos | September 13, 2007

Lead Paint In Toys? Horrors!!

Typical of the media and it’s supportive handwringers to blow the toy lead paint issue out of proportion. Not uncommon, because for over 40 years safety advocates have found it popular (and profitable) to blow the so-called whistle on various manufacturers and products. Their efforts combined with a concerned and equally misguided government, served to bring down entire, long standing industries.

Looking back I realize how things have so dramatically changed in such a short time. Forty years represents just 2 complete generations born and coming of age. Or put another way, less than one average working person’s career.

Growing up in the 50’s, all my toys were painted with lead paint. They were not only made in Japan but in America, too. Reputable names like Tonka and Ertl and other large, U.S. toy manufacturers come to mind. Even the little 15 cent bottles of paint you bought for your modelmaking contained lead. Housepaint, both interior and exterior, contained lead. Lead was in everything. Lead was a big industry. You could even buy and sell lead. Yes, some inner city toddlers did chew on their lead laden windowsills. I chewed on my lead painted baby blocks and crib rails, as most every baby did during teething.

And I remember digging in the asbestos covered heat piping next to my school desk. And carving my initials with my lead pencil into the soft, workable surface. I purposely chose that seat location so I could do so. And so did countless other children in my generation and generations before me.

How neat it was when our 6th grade science teacher walked around the room depositing a nickel sized dollop of mercury on our desktops. We were instructed to learn the unique physical properties of mercury by playing with it. Poking a pencil into it, separating it while holding it in our hands and watching it almost miraculously, join back together. Mercury was pretty cool. It was a hands-on learning introduction to a common, everyday substance. And it was every bit as toxic then as is today.

Today, if an item even thought to contain the smallest amount of mercury is discovered broken or missing, the entire school is shut down, children evacuated and inspected for contamination and the HAZMAT moonsuit teams dispatched. Overreaction? We can’t be too careful, can we?

Ralph Nader killed the Chevrolet Corvair. Literally. He published a book entitled “Unsafe At Any Speed.” The fear he was able to instill in people brought him instant fame and recognition. And fear and loathing of one of the decades most fun, sporty, economy cars.

Design instability was his mantra against the Corvair that he preached from every pulpit at every opportunity. He was, after all, riding a wave of his own making. He became a household name synonymous with safety. If Ralph Nader said anything, television, radio, magazines and newspapers hung on his every word. Along the way they discovered something really important, too. Fear sells. Almost as well as sex but without the stigma.

Acting on the peoples fear and allegedly in their best interest created a loyal, lasting customer base. And that created immediate and long-term profits. From then on mass media was always digging to report on some new, potential falling piece of sky.

The more alarming the headline, the more papers sold or newscasts watched. It was a win-win formula for success. They made more money by raising concern over everyday products people used and loved for decades. The age of consumer protectionism had begun.

Government, bending under pressure from it’s people and not wanting to appear unresponsive, created investigative commissions and departments for overseeing its citizen’s safety. Some were actually needed, others on a witch hunt to justify their funding.

Glory day. There was no longer any need for people to think and decide for themselves. After all, how could individuals be smart enough to know what was bad for them? And it was profitable to be their watchdog. The big bad world sterilized by the people and agencies who purported to look out for you more than your own mother and father. In fact, even your own mother and father came under their scrutiny and authority.

Back in the late forties and fifties, Buster Brown, Red Parrot and many other shoe stores had a dangerous little apparatus called a fluoroscope. It was a device for checking the fit of a new pair of shoes.

You inserted your feet with new shoes on. Then looked in a dual eyepiece to see a green glow representing your feet inside the new pair of shoes. It instantly showed how each shoe fit your foot. Amazing new technology back then. Trouble was, it was really a poorly adjusted x-ray machine using dangerous gamma radiation and worse, leaking it.

But here’s my point…

No caring mother let her kids use that machine – ever! At least not more than once. Despite less education back then, most moms knew when something wasn’t safe. Call it instinct or whatever, mom knew. As a result, I was never allowed to see my glowing, green feet inside a new pair of shoes again. Bummer!

Mom knew and she accomplished more than any consumer watchdog agency could ever do. She simply said, “No.” No in those days meant, “No.” That was the end of it. For those of you unfamiliar with how well this works, please read my previous blog.

I did know some kids whose moms either didn’t care, didn’t know or were rarely in some other part of the store when their kid tried the intriguing device.

But I never heard if they eventually lost their feet or contracted cancer from using it. Knowing what we know today, the momentary, infrequent exposure created by that machine was probably less than a typical modern day chest x-ray or airport scan. And the potential for harm far greater than the fear created by it.

With all the dangers out there, it was a wonder if we’d make it to adulthood. And if so, we surely couldn’t have children.

For me the most dangerous thing I remember back then, were the Japanese made tin-toys. Everything was made of tin back then. The popular way of assembling tin toys was a bent-over-tab-thru-slot affair and it was sharp as a razor blade. Several times I cut myself trying to disassemble one of those toys. But I eventually learned from the experience and could soon take anything from Japan apart without injury. Kind of a what doesn’t kill you, only makes you more determined.

Amazing then, how my generation and all generations before it were able to not just survive but thrive and actually grow to healthy adulthood. And yes, most of us had perfectly normal children. Equally amazing since we’ve outlawed all these dangerous chemicals and substances and yet, the rate of current day dysfunctional children seem to be at an all-time high. Maybe it wasn’t the lead in our toys, the asbestos in our schools or the mercury in our thermometers, not even the green glow of our feet.

Maybe it was just good old common sense, something so apparently in short supply today.

Hmmm… seems like more and more the things we should be worried about, we aren’t and vice versa.

OK. Here’s the Doodle-O’Da-Day:




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