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There Are Unsafe Products in Your House (or Warehouse)

….the system to communicate recalls is broken.

7/3/2023 | Jeff Jacobs, The Brand Protector

There Are Unsafe Products in Your House (or Warehouse) Right Now

….the system to communicate recalls is broken.

When it comes to products, let’s give suppliers the benefit of the doubt for a moment and stipulate that they have the best of intentions, or perhaps their procurement efforts have them well vetted. That said,  anything you source — from exercise equipment to the chocolates for room drops — can still potentially pose a health hazard. While companies and the government agencies that regulate them often recall products after learning about the dangers they pose, the process to get that message to you is horribly broken.

The reality is that dangerous products almost never get recalled quickly. Even after manufacturers or federal regulators are notified officially about illnesses, injuries, or deaths, recalls regularly take months or even years to actually happen. Compounding that, even in instances when the government announces recalls, far too many people don’t hear about them. In fact, the average actual return of recalled child-appealing products is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 10 percent. It could be that as much as 90 percent of recalled products are still out there to maybe catch fire, poison people, or suffocate babies months and years later because consumers didn’t learn about the harm they can cause. Let that number sink in for a minute: 90 percent of recalled products are still out there posing potential harm.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n’ Play Sleepers, which have been linked to the deaths of about 100 babies, both before and after the original recall in 2019. Fisher-Price earlier this year re-announced its recall of all of the Rock ‘n’ Play portable sleepers. Publicly available reports of babies who died while using this inclined sleeper date back to at least January 2018.

Parents and doctors filed reports with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), but the sleepers weren’t recalled until more than a year later, in April 2019. By that time, more than 30 infant deaths had occurred in Rock ‘n Plays. Today, almost four years later, about 70 additional babies have reportedly died while using this product, according to the CPSC.

I’m not suggesting that the CPSC doesn’t want to investigate and determine whether a product needs to be taken off store shelves, replaced, repaired, or refunded, however, once the agency decides to act, there’s an enormous obstacle that needs to be removed. Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act prohibits the agency from publicly disclosing derogatory information about a product until it has notified the company and then waited an additional 15 days. This impediment to enforcement gives companies enough time to file lawsuits to block the disclosure. To avoid court battles, the CPSC often negotiates recalls, which can take weeks or months. 

The solution to this roadblock is The Sunshine in Product Safety Act, and the onus is on us to make this Act a reality by prompting our representatives in Washington to pass it. The Sunshine in Product Safety Act is a bill first proposed in 2021, which would repeal Section 6(b) restrictions and allow the CPSC to warn Americans about hazardous products more rapidly than the current process. The Sunshine in Product Safety Act was reintroduced in March of this year and Congress should pass it — now. Speaking of sunshine, as in transparency, manufacturers should be compelled to use both social media and broadcast ads to announce recalls, and the store that sold it to you should send you fewer useless coupons and more info on the defective products they sold you. What do you think? I hope that we’re on the same page and that I can count on you to reach out to your representatives in Congress and let them know how important supporting this Act is. 

Finally, in a landmark settlement two weeks ago, 3M reached a nearly $10.3 billion settlement of several “forever chemical” drinking water lawsuits. I mention it here because I’m not throwing the term  “landmark” around lightly. Under the settlement terms, the company agreed to pay up to $10.3 billion over a 13-year period to public water suppliers that have detected the substances in drinking water across the nation. 3M is among the world's largest manufacturers of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. While research is still ongoing — they’re praised by some for their use in nonstick cookware and waterproof or stain-resistant products — others fear them far more because of their proven toxicity. PFAS are found in any number of products you could still be selling right now. A quick rundown of the list includes: clothing, rainwear, furniture, outdoor equipment, tape, cosmetics, and PFAS are also often used in food packaging, including pizza boxes and fast-food wrappers to minimize grease from leaking. PFAS are also used in electronics, medical equipment, and some renewable technologies. It’s quite a list, and at least is worthy of a second look at your catalogs.

Alarmingly, this research showed that 99% of Americans have PFAS in their bodies. Our companions on this earth are not immune — this report, released by the Environmental Working Group in February, found more than 120 different forever chemicals (PFAS) in the bodies of birds, bears, tigers, horses, cats, and other mammals.

Do you really want to wait to see all the results before tossing out your favorite Teflon frying pan or that raincoat you’ve had for years but which is in too good of shape to recycle properly? Research may be ongoing about how much PFAS affect people's health but, in addition to cancer, there are confirmed reports of weakened childhood immunity, low birth rates, and thyroid disease connected to forever chemicals. Are you really willing to roll the dice on this issue? I hope not.

Jeff Jacobs has been an expert in building brands and brand stewardship for 40 years, working in commercial television, Hollywood film and home video, publishing, and promotional brand merchandise. He’s a staunch advocate of consumer product safety and has a deep passion and belief regarding the issues surrounding compliance and corporate social responsibility. He retired as executive director of Quality Certification Alliance, the only non-profit dedicated to helping suppliers provide safe and compliant promotional products. Before that, he was director of brand merchandise for Michelin. Connect with Jeff on TwitterLinkedInInstagram, or read his latest musings on food, travel and social media on his personal blog jeffreypjacobs.com. Email jacobs.jeffreyp@gmail.com.
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