Monday, December 7, 2009

Lo, the hamster shall explain to us the CPSIA.

Well, there's been a lot of acrimony in the past few days about antimony and toy hamsters. If you're reading this blog, you're probably aware that the "Good Guide", the self-appointed arbiters of product safety and responsibility, released a press release on December 5th in which they claimed that the Zhu Zhu pet hamster "Mr. Squiggles" exceeds federal limits for antimony.

Yes, they said, the inexplicably runaway hit of this holiday toy season is poisonous.

Then, after some excellent investigation by non-toxic toy advocate The Smart Mama and others, it became clear that the Good Guide got its facts wrong. They used an XRF gun (a portable x-ray machine that analyzes chemical content) to determine Mr. Squiggle's antimony levels. Federal law, however, uses ASTM's limits based on soluble antimony. This means the standard is based on how much antimony leaches from the toy in an acid solution, not how much total content exists in the toy--two very different standards. And, it turns out, Mr. Squiggles passed his soluble antimony test just fine, which the CPSC affirmed.

(By the way, if you're actually concerned about antimony in your home, you should read how much is in some mattresses, where it is often used as a fireproofing agent to meet CPSC-mandated federal guidelines.)

Today, the Good Guide issued a retraction, no doubt hoping they won't be sued:
"Since issuing our release, we have learned that the testing methodology used in the federal standards (a soluble method) is different than the methodology we used in our testing (a surface-based method) ... We should not have compared our results to federal standards. We regret this error."
We feel compelled to point out that, under the CPSIA, if a well-meaning toymaker made a similar mistake, they would face potential fines of $8,000 to $100,000 for each violation [pdf], not including possible state attorney general actions.

But even more than that, we would like to draw attention to the fact that the Good Guide got this wrong even though they have a board of 10 "trusted scientific advisors", 9 of whom hold doctorates. Here we might raise our voice a bit: If the Good Guide has these scientists and doctors at their disposal and still can't properly interpret CPSIA and ASTM standards, how can small businesses like ours even hope to comply?

The CPSIA regulates not only lead levels in toys, but also antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, and mercury, all of which require third party lab testing. This burden on small toy manufacturers is enormous and untenable.

Finally, we agree that the Good Guide has done a great disservice to the cause of safer children's products with their misinformation this week. As the Smart Mama writes,
"You can only cry wolf so many times before people stop believing you. You can’t cry ”wolf” when the standard doesn’t apply...So shame on the Good Guide."
Hamster FAIL indeed.


  1. How crazy. It was on the 6 o'clock news as well a couple of days ago. All this fighting over toys when all kids want to do is play with remote controls and suck on cell phones!!!

  2. And we wonder why small batch producers are scared to death and confused with this law. Good grief ...Good Guide.

  3. Hello, I just wanted to chime in here and state that I work for a company that makes XRF guns, and we have a Mr. Squiggles here at our facility. After hours of testing we could not repeat Goodguide's finding of over 106ppm of antimony, our highest reading was under 26ppm, and the governments limit is 60ppm.

  4. Poor Mr. Squiggles. Goodguide found you out. You are now classified as a WMD. More dangerous than a speeding fright train loaded with used radioactive stuff. MY GOD! You're going to do the Earth what those cosmic rays from a yet unknown planet will do. I could keed going with this, but I think this will do.