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May 4th, 2008

_It's No Accident_, E. Marla Felcher

Subtitled: How Corporations Sell Dangerous Baby Products

Two minor items to start out.

(1) That is one _unfortunate_ last name. I had troubles with the name I got from my father, and R. has ongoing issues with his as well. But this really puts it all in perspective.
(2) I acquired this book through TitleTrader, which meant I arrived with relatively low expectations.

The book was written in 1998ish and published in 2001 with some updates as recent as 2000. The publisher is Common Courage Press, an activist press I have Huge Respect and Admiration for. She did solid research and shows her work at the end, in the form of appendices, notes, etc. She uses a lot of newsmagazine/newspaper articles for sources for stuff like court cases, which gives you an indication of the nature of the research and writing.

While the cover matter suggests a certain, OMG these corporations would put Profit First!?! the book itself understands the realities of doing business. The author takes pains to distinguish between sectors of the business world which adhere to standards laid out by governmental agencies and/or independent testing labs like UL and sectors of the business world which work hard to ensure they are not regulated other than voluntarily, and then don't bother to stick to what standards are created voluntarily.

She starts by describing a particular product by a particular company and how many children it injured or killed and the inadequacy of the process of removing that product from the market. From there, she spends time describing the inadequacy of the regulation and testing of juvenile products in general (with the exception of car seats, which are handled effectively by NHTSA, rather than CPSC). Next up is why the recall process is so weak, and how CPSC's limited ability to sue and fine is further compromised in a variety of ways. Finally, she delves into how the CPSC was created and why FOIA's for their information on dangerous products are so censored by corporations. She then spends a couple chapters on suggestions for policy changes and activism that could be undertaken by individuals, groups, states and the federal government.

Today, of course, if you want to know what has been recalled, it is simple to go to CPSC's website and look at every single press release and recall they've ever done. Most of what the author has to say is very reasonable (if somewhat dated, in terms of where to get information), altho I would argue that many of her policy suggestions do not go far enough.

She is willing to come right out and say: don't ever buy a walker or bath seat because these two product categories kill and injure too many babies and are just not safe and while it may, in theory, be possible to make them safe, manufacturers' efforts so far have been woefully adequate. I would add several more items to that list. I am at the same time a little sympathetic to some of the engineer complaints -- that caregivers don't necessarily use the products in the way they were intended. Most mid-market baby products are designed for _one_ baby to use, but these things get handed down from sibling to sibling to cousin to friend's kid to day care to garage sale etc. While truly dangerous recalled items make this path lethal, even an adequate product becomes dangerous when used this far past its design lifetime, by people who have no access to the instructions and so forth.

While some consignment stores do a _great_ job of filtering out recalled products, most do not. That was a little disappointing. My sister had collected through friends a variety of baby products, then moved rather abruptly. She wanted them shipped, which would have been hideously expensive, so I offered to sell them, only to discover several had been recalled and some of the rest had serious safety issues (batteries had leaked in them damaging connections, etc.). I was pleased to learn that consignment stores did such a great job catching bad product. I am now sad to learn that is maybe atypical.

Hard to know whether to recommend this book, given that most of the specific products have aged out, and so many of the brands I am familiar with make no appearance anywhere in the book (is that because they are new, new to the US, have small marketshare -- or are actually good?). It could certainly scare the bejeebers out of a new parent, which is a mixed blessing. If you're looking for a crusade, this would be a _great_ place to spend your time and resources.

(I am pre-emptively screening anonymous comments on this entry, because I'm a little concerned about what might happen with that author's last name. As always, the only comments I remove are ones that have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject, as in, soliciting, etc.)