Have you ever wondered how federal regulators decide to push a mass recall of something like kids jewelry, toys or another product for children? A report by the Associated Press opens a window on the decision-making process at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the AP obtained documents from the June 4 recall of 12 million “Shrek” animated movie-themed drinking glasses sold at McDonald’s restaurants. The glasses were pulled after federal regulators concluded that some of the glasses contained dangerous amounts of cadmium, a toxic metal.
Specifically, children could be exposed to a cadmium hazard by touching, at least eight times in a day, the version of the glasses with an orange design depicting the Puss in Boots character.
According to the details uncovered by the AP, the chain of events began when California Congresswoman Jackie Speier received two tips from constituents whose own tests found cadmium in the Shrek glasses. Speier alerted the safety commission, which began testing.
By swiping the glasses with towelettes — intended to mimic a child’s handling — agency scientists found hazardous levels of cadmium released from the Puss in Boots glasses. Cadmium released from the three other Shrek glass designs was too minimal to be considered a threat.
Through a series of calculations, officials concluded that an average 6-year-old weighing 45 pounds could be exposed to hazardous levels of cadmium by touching one of the Puss in Boots glasses just eight times in a day. The agency approached McDonald’s, which did its own testing, and then issued a recall of all the Shrek glassware. Consumers had already purchased about 9 million of the glasses, according to the AP.
This year marks the first time federal regulators have recalled products containing cadmium, following an AP report in January that Chinese manufacturers of children’s jewelry were using cadmium. A string of jewelry recalls followed, and cadmium is now effectively banned as an ingredient in children’s jewelry in the U.S.
Cadmium is a known carcinogen, and long-term, low-level exposure to the metal can punch holes in kidneys, soften bones and, some new research suggests, hinder the development of young brains, according to the AP.
The French company that produced the Shrek-themed glassware, Arc International, continues to insist the glasses are safe, the AP reports. A representative of glassware manufacturers told the AP that the recall has had a “chilling effect” on business. Manufacturers say cadmium is a nearly irreplaceable ingredient in orange and yellow designs, and that there is no viable alternative to cadmium for producing “fire engine” red designs.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is preparing a new standard for the amount of safe intake of cadmium, which the agency expects to release this month.