Now it’s cadmium that is the latest abomination from amoral manufacturers in China

Why?  After the lead in toys.  After the melatonin in milk (maybe at first it was just cheating on protein content, but after the pet food scare it was criminally willful adulteration with a toxic chemical).  Now cadmium, one of the well known top heavy metals (along with lead, mercury, chrome VI).  What is wrong with these guys?

Are they stupid?  I don't think so.  Is it just chasing money? Are those looking to make and sell the cheapest stuff just moving to the next raw material that hasn't made the list yet?
Are they simply betting they won't get caught before making a bundle? And are they right?  Are these just short term operations that disappear and reform to play dirty again as another entity?

I think they are criminals operating with a desire to harm or at least totally amoral and negligent not caring what harm they may cause others.  China's capital punishment may not be so drastic after all.  On the other hand, it doesn't appear to be a successful determent.

What about the US importers?  Sounds like some of these guys are fly-by-nights too.  But the retailers aren't (Walmart, Disney) - how many times do they need to get burnt?  What systems do they have in place to ensure that their suppliers are decent people who do not knowingly make their products out of toxic chemicals?  On the other hand, who would have thought that suppliers would even think of substituting cadmium?!

You won't have to wait long for the politicians at local, state and national levels to start to race each other to draft new laws requiring cadmium testing of children's jewelry.  Along with lead, BPA and mercury and hundreds of other real or imagined toxic chemicals.

It's got to be more than just checklists of chemicals or explicit laws against using individual chemicals.  Regulatory lists will always lag.  Just like closing the barn door after the next crazy thing the terrorists will try on planes.  (Will those phobic people who worry about one molecule of a carcinogen/endocrine disruptor worry about more killer xrays for which there is no safe threshold of exposure?)

Of course, we can essentially ban imported toys by requiring totally impractical and expensive up front screening.  Or ban them outright:  Buy USA!  Who needs toys anyway?  Kids can play with virtual toys online (oops, computers are made of chemicals too).  My mom gave me her keys to chew on; wonder what they were made of? (no wonder I'm nuts)

So what do we do?

  • ensure serious consequences for willful use of harmful chemicals in products that create uncontrolled exposure (not every chemical that someone somewhere thinks is trouble, but certainly those uses of known toxics that we any rational person would agree is bad - like charms made of heavy metals like lead or cadmium).  Seems like basic tort and criminal law ought to work. Or heads on pikes.
  • teach and expect moral behavior.  I like to call it Product Stewardship:

Product Stewardship occurs when all those involved in the life cycle of a product take shared responsibility to reduce adverse environmental, health and safety impacts to achieve the most value from a product.

  • I don't think product stewardship is something you legislate or regulate.  It's a way of thinking and acting, taking responsibility to be aware of the potential consequences of your decisions and actions and continuously making improvements.  It's working with others to be more sustainable.  It's something every player in the life cycle needs to do:  suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, users, recyclers, disposers, governments, businesses, communities and individuals.  See other my other blogs on the topic.
  • Companies that purchase products from others must work with their suppliers to ensure they understand and are practicing product stewardship.  Education, training, quality control, third party verification and accountability need to be tailored according to the capabilities of the supplier.  It's not enough to just stick to the regulatory requirements.  Compliance is a base, but life cycle stewardship is a moral imperative.  EHS Strategies, Inc. can help you figure out how to institute a product stewardship program.

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