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HP must pay $425,000 penalty for failure to report defect

HP has agreed to pay a $425,000 civil penalty to resolve allegations that it failed to report a product defect to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  The agency charged that, through October 2008, HP continued to sell laptops it knew contained defective lithium-ion battery packs. The packs overheated and, in some cases, caught fire.  At least one consumer was hospitalized with injuries.

Federal law requires that manufacturers immediately report known product defects to CPSC.  The agency alleged that, by September 2007, HP knew of 22 incidents with the battery pack, as well as the injuries to the hospitalized consumer.  Despite this knowledge, CPSC said, HP failed to report the defect.  The company continued to sell laptops containing the battery packs and also sold the packs individually.  According to CPSC, by the time HP reported the issue in July 2008,  the company was aware of at least 31 incidents involving the battery packs.  Finally, in October 2008, HP and CPSC announced a joint recall of 32,000 packs.

Although it has agreed to pay the penalty, HP denies that the packs pose an unreasonable risk of death or injury.  The company also denies violating the law.  For more on this case, visit the CPSC website.


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Chemicals in Johnson & Johnson baby products cause controversy

Johnson & Johnson has always promoted an image of its products being safe and gentle enough to use on babies.  For decades, parents have reached for the company’s baby care products, trusting that the ingredients within them were safe and non-toxic.  Just two months ago, the company even ranked first in a Forbes survey of the most trusted brands in America.  But this image took a major hit last month,  when a report revealed that the famous baby shampoo continues to use two known carcinogens:  1,4-dioxane, a chemical byproduct, and quaternium-15, a preservative that releases formaldehyde.

Over two years ago, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics issued a report called No More Toxic Tub.  The report revealed that a number of baby products, including Johnson & Johnson shampoo, contained carcinogens.  The advocacy group asked Johnson & Johnson to reformulate its products and remove the harmful ingredients.  The company listened–or so the Campaign thought.   In fact, when the Campaign re-analyzed the labels of Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo sold in 13 different countries, in found that the carcinogens were still being used in about half of the formulations, including the shampoo sold in America.  Quaternium-15 was found in products sold in the United States, Canada, China, Indonesia, and Australia.  Meanwhile, products sold in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, and Japan, contained non-formaldehyde preservatives.

So why the double standard? As Campaign for Safe Cosmetics director Lisa Arch stated, “Clearly there is no need for Johnson & Johnson to continue to expose American, Canadian, and other babies to formaldehyde when it is already using alternatives in other markets. ”  The company is obviously capable of producing safe alternatives, but deliberately chose to make no changes to the products  in some of its biggest markets.   It’s worth noting that, after the release of the first report, Johnson & Johnson did introduce a “natural” line of baby products.  However, these cost about twice as much as the original products–a price difference that many consumers may not be able to afford.

Luckily, it seems the Campaign’s advocacy has been effective.  As Forbes recently reported,

On November 16th, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would remove quaternium-15 and other formaldehyde-releasing preservatives from all of its baby products worldwide within two years, and reduce 1,4 dioxane in all of its baby products to less than 4 parts per million (ppm).  Long term, the company indicated it will replace the chemical process, called ethoxylation, that results in 1,4 dioxane contamination. Johnson & Johnson also announced that it has removed phthalates from all of its baby products worldwide. The announcement does not cover the company’s non-baby products (e.g. products in the Neutrogena and Aveeno lines).

It remains to be seen when the reformulated products will actually be available.  Furthermore, consumers continue to be misled by products that claim to be safe, gentle, and natural.  Still, there are ways for consumers to learn what harmful chemicals are used in everyday personal care products.  The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is an easy-to-use search tool that contains information on over 69,000 products.   Consumers can use the tool to discover health concerns associated with each product.


10 toys to avoid this holiday season

As holiday shopping continues, consumer advocacy group WATCH (World Against Toys Causing Harm) has released its annual list of the 10 worst toys for children. Among the list are “toy” weapons, including a Power Rangers “Samurai Mega Blade and “Zing Toys Z-Curve Bow.”  The samurai blade extends a full two feet and includes the following warning:  “Do not: (1) aim toy at anyone, (2) hit anyone with toy, (3) poke anyone with toy, (4) swing toy at anyone…”  Essentially, do none of the things children expect to do with a toy sword.  The age recommendation is four years and older; it’s hard to imagine children of any age adhering to these instructions.  WATCH warns that the blade can cause “serious facial or other impact injuries.”

The “Z-Curve Bow” is a foam bow and arrow set that claims to be able to fly over 125 feet.  The label warns kids to alert people close to a target before firing, but it’s doubtful that children would actually trek 125 feet to see who may be near a target.  WATCH also took issue with a warning that tells users to not pull arrows back at more than half strength–an instruction that children may not even understand, let alone comply with.

Absurd instructions seemed to be a theme among the toys.   A “Fold & Go Trampoline” sternly warns consumers that the product should only be used for “controlled bouncing.”   The portable trampoline is recommended for children ages three and up; as one reporter put it, “what segment of the population is better at controlled bouncing than 3-year-olds?”

Also making the list was a “Sword Fighting Jack Sparrow” figurine complete with a rigid, four inch plastic sword.  WATCH warned that the sword could cause eye and other impact injuries.  Meanwhile, toy school buses with removable tires pose a choking hazard, and a wooden duck intended for one year olds contains a 33 inch cord that far exceeds the industry’s 12 inch standard limit.

The Toy Industry Association dismissed the list, claiming that such reports “needlessly frighten parents.”  But toy injuries are nothing to scoff at–the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that toy injuries sent 250,000 children to ERs in 2009 alone.

To see the full list of toys, visit WATCH’s website.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on consumer awareness efforts

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published a great article discussing how well efforts are working to keep consumers informed of product dangers.  Columnist Jeff Gelles reports that, since last year, U.S. law has required the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to maintain “a new system meant to ensure that parents and others who buy ‘durable infant and toddler products’ – items like cribs, car seats, strollers, and bassinets – learn about recalls before they cause injuries or deaths.”  When parents buy these products, a card enables them to register directly with the manufacturer.  If a product is recalled, the manufacturer can easily reach each person who has registered.

Gelles also reports that, in March, CPSC created a searchable public database,  Through the database, consumers can report product injuries and close calls, as well as search for products they’re thinking of buying.  A simple search can educate the consumer about potential risks a product may pose.

Although this seems like a simple and effective way to empower consumers to educate and product themselves, some manufacturers are fighting these databases.  One anonymous company has even filed a lawsuit against CPSC in Maryland, alleging that it could suffer irreparable harm if injuries allegedly caused by its products were reported in a public database.

Both the registration system and the products database depend on active consumer participation.  Visit to report an unsafe product or research before you make a purchase.  And if you’ve recently purchased a durable infant or toddler product, such as a crib, stroller, or car seat, check the packaging for a registration card.  Fill it out to ensure that you are informed of any recalls.


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