Politically expedient junk science made headlines again last month. This time it was over lead in miniblinds. A June 25 pronouncement by the Consumer Product Safety Commission left the plastics industry in the dust over the question of the products' safety. Playing only on anecdotes, coincidence and the fears of parents, CPSC administrator Ann Brown urged families with small children to throw away their mostly imported vinyl miniblinds and buy new ones made in the United States.
She complained of the lead phosphate stabilizer present in imported miniblinds, to keep the blinds stiff and colorfast.
It might show up in dust, which might be present on the blinds, which might be ingested in traceable amounts by small children if they lick the blinds daily for a month.
Never mind that no official recall has or will be issued, that far many more children die from entanglement in miniblind sash cords, that no child had been found to suffer from lead poisoning from miniblinds.
Never mind that state testing agents, upon whom the CPSC based its hysterical decision, admitted they had no danger standard for miniblinds. Their tests were based on dust found in proximity to the blinds and could not be tied to the blinds themselves.
The Window Covering Safety Council's response was equally dumb.
Overnight, the market for these mostly Asian- and Mexican-made miniblinds began closing. The U.S. domestic window-covering industry, sensing an eager market for its goods as replacements, quickly offered up its own designs, guaranteed lead-free. They will be on American store shelves by August - at a markup of 15 percent. Their greed could mean curtains for them when offshore producers switch to lead-free miniblind production.
Ruling is Pyrrhic victory
Plastic resin producers may have dodged a bullet in the June 26 Supreme Court decision allowing state litigation against medical device makers, but the ruling raises risks for the latter.
The ruling affects manufacturers who meet a sometimes-cursory test to show their products are ``substantially equivalent'' to those that have passed stringent federal safety examinations.
The court said being ``substantially equivalent'' no longer protects medical device makers from meeting safety, labeling and manufacturing requirements in each of the 50 states. That makes them a target for plaintiffs' lawyers, even as it blurs the bull's-eye painted on resin makers, who because of their large sizes have become ``deep-pocket'' defendants in lawsuits against device makers.
Lawyers for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. responded to the ruling by pronouncing it ``good news for the plastics industry.''
Well, part of it. The ``industry'' represented by SPI embraces a lot of processors, some of whom make ``substantially equivalent'' medical devices in clean-room molding operations.