The Great PVC Miniblind Scare of 1996 grabbed a few seconds on the nightly news, then was forgotten quickly. But ... surprise! The sleuths at the Consumer Product Safety Commission are casting around for other vinyl villains. They're back, asking questions about lead in vinyl siding, windows and doors. Actually, this should come as no surprise. In fact, the vinyl industry now should expect the CPSC to sniff around (or lick around, as in the case of miniblinds) for lead in all things vinyl.
The miniblind ``investigation'' was based on weak, anecdotal evidence that children could face a health risk if they ingested a huge amount of chalk-like dust from lead stabilizers in foreign-made miniblinds.
Fine. Lead-free, U.S.-made blinds now are available.
End of story.
Then the CPSC decided to go fishing. The agency mailed a letter July 24 asking manufacturers of vinyl siding, windows and doors to provide detailed answers on whether lead in their products is ``bioavailable'' to children.
Some excerpts from the letter show the CPSC, like many government regulatory bodies, knows next to nothing about the issue and wants manufacturers to do all the work:
To the extent lead is used in your products, please state the percent of lead by weight used in each of those products and provide all test data and analyses concerning the lead content of each such product.
Please describe and provide copies of all testing or analyses conducted by, or on behalf of, your firm concerning whether vinyl/plastic used in your products degrades, allowing lead or other chemicals to become available on the surface of the product ... [in a form] that could be ingested through reasonably foreseeable handling or use by children.
If lead is used ... please identify the form, chemical name, trade name and CAS Registry number of the type of lead used.
Companies also were asked to name substitutes for lead. They were given two weeks to respond.
Siding manufacturers do not use lead. Lead stabilizers have not been used in siding since the product's early days in the 1970s.
Nearly every window profile extruder has stopped using lead and, according to the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, the two that still do will phase it out by the end of this year. The AAMA would not identify the two companies now using lead.
In a bold move, the AAMA, a Palatine, Ill., trade association that represents window makers, issued a press release asking CPSC officials to publicly state their intentions concerning vinyl windows. The AAMA pledged to cooperate.
The AAMA made a simple request. A government agency has roiled a big segment of the plastics industry. If they do find the vinyl products are harmless, they should say so, rather than just letting the matter drop without comment.
At the same time, vinyl window extruders who have switched to another stabilizer, and companies that manufacture windows from other plastics such as ABS, should show some restraint. This is not the time, in other words, to tout ``lead-free windows.''