OCTOBER 1997 · VOLUME 18 · NUMBER 10
N A M E S I N T H E N E W S
VINYL TOYS contain hazardous levels of cadmium and lead, charged Greenpeace in October. Greenpeace researchers purchased mainstream vinyl products from national chain stores, including at Kmart, Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us.
Many of the toys featured popular children's characters like Barbie, Mickey Mouse and Tweety.
An independent laboratory analysis revealed that some of the toys released toxic metal dust to their surfaces. Lead or cadmium contaminated dust is hazardous since it can enter the body by licking, chewing, inhalation and hand-to-mouth behavior.
The Greenpeace report, "Lead and Cadmium in Vinyl Children's Toys," found that the lead present in many vinyl consumer products exceeds current Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) limits.
"Children should be able to play with Barbie, Tweety and Mickey Mouse without being poisoned by vinyl," says Joseph Di Gangi, a Greenpeace toxics campaigner.
But the CPSC issued a statement disputing the results of the Greenpeace study. CPSC testing found that seven of the 11 vinyl products in which Greenpeace found high levels of lead had no or only trace levels of lead. CPSC conducted further analysis on the four other vinyl products and found two are not hazardous because exposure is not likely, and testing on two is incomplete.
Of the 11 products, CPSC found eight had no or only trace levels of cadmium and one was not hazardous because exposure is not likely. Testing on two of the products is incomplete, according to the CPSC statement.
"Using CPSC's experience with vinyl miniblinds, Greenpeace asserts that toxic dust will inevitably be released when vinyl products deteriorate," CPSC said. "CPSC staff found that vinyl miniblinds do deteriorate when continuously exposed to sunlight and heat. However, CPSC experts do not believe that the vinyl products tested by Greenpeace will deteriorate because they are not exposed to the same extent of sunlight and heat as the vinyl miniblinds."
But Greenpeace said that the University of North Carolina actually tested the deterioration of vinyl products using CPSC protocols and found that dangerous levels of both lead and cadmium were released by the products.
PHARMACEUTICAL MANUFACTURER WARNER-LAMBERT INC. pled guilty in September and will pay a $3 million criminal fine for falsifying reports on the levels of pollutants it was releasing into a drainage channel that feeds the Cibuco River from its wastewater treatment plant in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. The company also will pay a $670,000 civil penalty for routinely releasing excessive levels of pollutants between 1992 and 1995, violating its wastewater discharge permit 347 times. Warner-Lambert Inc. was charged with six counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act.
The plant supervisor, Juan Ruiz Orengo, also pled guilty to similar charges.
Ruiz was responsible for collecting and analyzing wastewater samples for 34 different pollutants including fecal coliform, metals, oil and grease.
Ruiz routinely falsified reports to show that pollution limits for several pollutants had not been exceeded, when in fact they had. Between January 1990 through the end of 1992, every report contained false information about the quality of the water the Warner-Lambert plant was releasing into the drainage channel. Ruiz could be sentenced to up to 27 months in jail.
CIGARETTE MANUFACTURERS stand to make a killing from the proposed deal between the tobacco industry and 40 state attorneys general. A September staff report issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finds that the cigarette manufacturers could actually profit from the deal. If the deal is adopted into law by Congress, the FTC said, the tobacco companies would like realize substantial profits by increasing the price of cigarettes significantly above the level needed to satisfy their payments under the proposed settlement.
Profit levels could rise substantially, in part because of an antitrust exemption, which is much broader than necessary to achieve the legitimate public health goals of the settlement, the report says.
FTC Chair Robert Pitofsky emphasizes that the report takes no position on whether the settlement agreement, if modified, would be in the public interest. "Rather the goal," he says, "is to explain how the proposed settlement might affect the tobacco industry and how prices could increase well beyond the amount of annual payments called for under the agreement resulting in substantial profits for the companies. The report raises the question of what ought to be done with any additional monies the settlement could generate."
Some defenders of the deal said the FTC report was irrelevant following President Clinton's statement in September that he would like to see cigarette prices raised as much as $1.50 a pack over 10 years, if youth smoking rates do not decline. The deal was expected to raise prices by 6o to 70 cents a pack.
But critics note the FTC report focuses on the structure of the deal, more than the amount of the price increase, and argue that its analysis remains valid even if higher price increases are contemplated.
-- Russell Mokhiber