Monday, March 31, 2008


So, a couple months ago, when we had the revelations of high lead levels in children's toys? There was much crying and rending of garments and cries that we should be thinking of the children.

And now there's a bill on the governor's desk that strengthens and increases the amount of permissible lead, cadmium, and phthalates in childrens' toys. And there is more crying and rending of garments and thinking of the children. But this time its from the toy companies, who are following the standard playbook on how to approach imposing legal regulations.

Hasbro and Mattel (the latter being more involved in the recent scandal, the former with a large presence on the Washington State Ports), are leaning on the governor to veto the measure, as testing for lead levels (and other nastiness) would be a cost they are unwilling to front. But that is happening behind the scenes. The textbook (and public) approach is to highlight how this law will affect the "little guy" - in this case Archie McPhee.

Archie McPhee is a Seattle institution that I first encountered a couple decades ago through Dave "Zeb" Cook, who got their catalog of gimcracks. They sold novelty products in a world that had become increasingly complex. Stuff like rubber spiders and boxing nun puppets and a bag with 100 plastic ants and devil duckies. Now most of the market of these are not kids, but rather young people in their first desk job looking for something to decorate their cubes and remind themselves that they were still young and hip.

Now the stories covering this issue point out that, should this law go through, Archie McPhee threatens to shut down, because most of its cheap toys come from overseas and testing them all would be cost prohibitive. And the potential threat has a lot of the young hipsters in a tizzy, along with old-guard Seattleites who point to every change in NW Life to be a sign of the apocalypse.

I sympathize. I love Archie McPhee, and regret that I lack the space for more of their stuff. But I'm not willing to balance my floating devil ducky on the back of potentially poisoning kids. This boils down to the standard corporate response to anything that reflects consumer protection laws - any new law would be too difficult to enforce, too expensive to the consumer, and in the end, would be the end of life as we know it. It always is, but if we want to protect the kids, its a risk I'm willing to take.

And with this comes the counter threat that Washingtonians would flood to Oregon to buy their lead-based knick-knacks. Not that I've noticed. California has the tightest car emissions laws and that hasn't slowed down the car culture there. Texas has the most restrictive textbook requirements, and textbook manufacturers write to fit the Texas law. The presence of a tight Washington law will serve to bring everyone else up. Someday we may even reach the same level of protection as, say, Europe.

So right now I'm thinking of the children, and think that governor should sign this bill.

More later,