Danger: buy products at your own risk

I want to do something that isn't often done and pay homage to a government agency for a moment.

I'll say right off the bat, that I really have no deep understanding of the inner workings of this agency. For all I know, we'll read a few hours from now some scandal emitting from this department. But almost every day, for the last six years or so, I've been getting their emails, giving me an appreciation for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Some time ago -- and I'm not sure if it was for journalistic reasons or that I was about to become a parent and was suddenly worried about recalls of cribs, baby toys and the like-- but I signed up to get daily emails from the CPSC. If there's a recall on any product in the United States, I know about it. Well, unless I forget to look at the email. When you get approximately, I dunno, 250 a year, it happens.

I don't know what it says about the state of global commerce, but almost every day, there's a recall from some manufacturer in some part of the world, far more than the children's toys with lead that made headlines last year. Tuesday, for instance, it was dune buggies. If you own a Twister Hammerhead Dune Buggy, you'll probably be interested to know that TJ. Power Sports, of Irving, Texas, has recalled them. Seems that the seat belt adjustment for the shoulder buckle can break if there's an impact or stress. That's important because when you drive a dune buggy, that's supposed to happen. It's a DUNE BUGGY. Anyway, should that adjustment break, you might be ejected. Just so you know.Monday, it was gas grills. If you own a Broil King Gas Grill, made in Ontario, Canada, you... well... you really don't want to know. Just stop using it. At least as a barbecue. I suppose it might make a nice planter.

Last week, the CPSC announced that Lowe's was recalling 84,000 children's storage bins due to possible excessive levels of lead on the surface paint. If you're one of these lucky customers and wondering the name brand of the children's storage bins, it has a very clever name: Children's Storage Bins. Made in Taiwan.

After awhile, you start to get these recall emails -- they don't come every day, but certainly several come every week -- you start to half-wonder if we're gambling with our lives simply by using everyday products.

Last week, Nintendo recalled some lapel pins due to risk of lead exposure. Until it was taken off the market, if you were sitting in a Rio Brands High-Boy Beach Chair, you had a chance of a rear leg breaking and falling out of it. That's not so bad, though, if you compare that to another company, DeWalt, which recalled table saws "due to laceration hazard," according to a CPSC email.

Right about now, I should probably point out here that DeWalt had no reports of injuries. Just one report of a blade misaligning. Only one person was hurt in the beach chair incident. No kids ate the Nintendo lapel pin; according to the CPSC, lead, the recall report pointed out, is toxic if you eat it. So if the lapel pins weren't toxic, kids could put some ketchup on it and munch away without any problems?

More seriously, the dune buggy recall came after the report of a seat belt breaking, resulting in nerve damage to the rider's right arm.

So many -- though obviously not all -- of these recalls come before any problems occur, and that's again, the reason I'm paying homage to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, because I tend to think we'd be in trouble without them. Maybe I've just been reading too many of their emails, but I think, for instance, of how I felt on December 6, 2007, when nine recalls were announced. There were sweatshirts and sweaters that had drawstrings that posed strangulation hazards, holiday figurines with possible lead paint danger and even Starbucks was recalling coffee mugs that were prone to the possibility of the drinker being burned.

Yes, our police, our military, the fire department, the medics and doctors of America, the FBI, the CIA -- they're all keeping us safe. And in their own quiet and understated way, so are a bunch of non-glamorous, probably under-appreciated paper pushers at the CPSC.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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