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Safety Commission To Rule On Safety of Rulers In Science Kits 446

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been trying decide for weeks if science kits designed to teach children are safe enough for children to use without vigorous testing. It's not just the chemicals or sharp items in the kits that they are troubled with however. They are also concerned about the dangers of paper clips, magnets, and rulers. From the article: "Science kit makers asked for a testing exemption for the paper clips and other materials. The commission declined to grant them a blanket waiver as part of the guidance the agency approved Wednesday on a 3-2 vote." To be fair, paper clips can cause a lot of damage — just look at what Clippy did to Microsoft Office.
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Safety Commission To Rule On Safety of Rulers In Science Kits

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  • Re:recommendations? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:30PM (#33748522)

    When we were kids we couldn't afford science kits. We just had to play with gun powder, gasoline, matches and plastic models. And we liked it.

  • by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:32PM (#33748566)

    You know all of those guys who worked for NASA in the 60s, designing and building the rockets that took us to the moon? Well, they had radioactive sources and Geiger counters in their science kits.

    And kids today are going to have to fight to get paper clips and magnets. Sigh.

  • Re:recommendations? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Duradin ( 1261418 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:36PM (#33748618)

    If you can find a copy, most likely digital and illegal as the physical version is rather rare bordering on non-existent, The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments has a lot of experiments that can be done with household items or other relatively common components.

    "Many of the experiments contained in the book are now considered highly dangerous for unsupervised children, and would not appear in a modern children's chemistry book." from Wikipedia.

  • Re:recommendations? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Atriqus ( 826899 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:52PM (#33748880) Homepage
    Found it readily readable/downloadable here [scribd.com].
  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:55PM (#33748944)
    But it shouldn't be part of the testing. By childrens toy I mean something that you give to two year olds, something like a pacifier or the like, not a toy intended for kids older than the "lets eat random crap" stage.
  • Three choices (Score:4, Informative)

    by wsanders ( 114993 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:55PM (#33748946) Homepage

    I have a wonderful book from the 60s, "700 Science Experiments for Everyone", originally published as "UNESCO Source Book for Science Teaching." It was wonderful gems like "How to Make an Electric Toaster" ("Your problem is to find a convenient was to mount 5 metres (no less!) of nichrome wire in a space no larger than a slide of bread."), and cutting apart old torch batteries to get the carbon rods to make an arc light, connected directly to the mains via a rheostat made from wire-wound rocks immersed in salt water. Not to mention DIY test tubes, alcohol lamps, etc.

    Or, you can grow up to be a lawyer, or someone who scrubs toilets for lawyers.

  • by himurabattousai ( 985656 ) <gigabytousai@gmail.com> on Thursday September 30, 2010 @01:06PM (#33749120)

    Sad, but true. This is the same agency that nearly killed the sub-250cc motorcycle market because most of bikes (and ATVs as well) with engines that small are meant for kids to learn on. Yes, adults do occasionally ride 150-cc dirtbikes, but kids are the target user.

    Why was this market nearly killed? The CPSC was afraid of kids licking the battery terminals and sucking on lead wheel-balancing weights. Never mind that kids can't really swallow these things, or that these parts won't poison you even if swallowed. They have lead, and lead is bad. The CPSC doesn't care to look any further than that.

  • Re:Bad summary (Score:3, Informative)

    by zero_out ( 1705074 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @01:15PM (#33749264)
    I wish everyone would RTFA. Or even read the entire summary, instead of skimming the first half. >95% of the comments thus far have completely missed what you pointed out, Ryuuzaki. The issue is what to test, not what is considered a passing result. Do they give a bye to the paper clips and rulers, or do they test all the contents to ensure that everything is safe? Sure, rulers are generally considered safe, but if some hysterical parent of an injured child asks "did you test everything in this kit?" and the commission says "we tested 85% of the contents," do you really think that people are going to care what items fell in the untested 15%? They will focus on the fact that the kit wasn't tested in its entirety.
  • Re:Bad summary (Score:3, Informative)

    by archmcd ( 1789532 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @01:19PM (#33749334)
    Paper clips happen to be magnetic, and are a great tool for illustrating magnetism not only between a steel object and a magnet, but between a magnetized piece of steel and another piece of steel (two paper clips). I am at a loss as my science kit when I was little came with sharp nails instead of paper clips. I thought paper clips were a progression in safety.
  • by santiam ( 1279644 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @01:27PM (#33749450)
    The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) was pretty much knee-jerk reaction to some high-profile toy recalls that occurred in 2007 and 2008. While better standards were needed to protect children, many felt that this act went too far, too quickly and was even too vague for its own good.

    The law requires that every batch of every product be tested by a third party for lead and phthalates (which can add up to be very expensive). This means that every time new plastic comes in for a new batch of rulers or they bring in some new paint, or even the metal strip in the ruler, all need to be tested for lead and phthalates. Even if nothing has changed since the last batch.

    This law drove many companies out of business and nearly shuttered hundreds more before a last minute extension/clarifications were made early in 2009, I believe. Even some European companies (where the testing is more stringent) stopped importing their toys into the US with the new, higher cost as the reason. I'm not sure if this part has been cleared up or not, but the law also included local craftspeople who carve wooden toys or sew bibs (each piece of pine and each bolt of fabric would have to have been tested for lead and phthalates)

    I work in a small, locally owned toy store and before the law science kits have already become much more simple (and boring in my opinion) since I was a kid. I assume this is due to companies concerned about litigation from parents who give a kit designed for a 10-year-old to their "really advanced" 5-year-old. We have discovered that 90% of kids are "advanced for their age" or at least that's what is said about the children when they are being shopped for.

    Without granting exceptions to certain components of science kits (and perhaps a few other "toys") they will become even more simple and America will fall further behind the rest of the world in science and math proficiency.
  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @01:40PM (#33749704) Homepage

    Having taught English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to American exchange students - yes, their standard of reading and writing was low enough to put them into a class aimed at people who understand no English at all - I can safely say that the privately educated ones have the lowest standard of education. People who have been privately educated in the US seem to be good at sports and have bits and pieces of "rote" learning, but cannot effectively use language because they simply haven't been taught how.

    If you paid for your child to have a private education in a US school, I hope you're not too upset to learn that when they reach university they will be able to read, write and speak English about as well as an average British 11-year-old.

  • Another link (Score:3, Informative)

    by PinkyGigglebrain ( 730753 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @01:53PM (#33749946)
    Found this [about.com] location. No logins or accounts required.
  • Re:Comparison... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Inda ( 580031 ) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday September 30, 2010 @02:19PM (#33750390) Journal
    They still do all that in the UK.

    I visited a school last week as part of their open day. There was a bowl of soapy water that the kids were bubbling methane through. They let me grab a handful and set fire to it. Big fun.

    Pigs hearts, lungs, eyes, parabolic mirrors heating water,... Best days of your lives kids. :-)
  • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @02:54PM (#33750892) Homepage

    When I was a kid, I made gunpowder by:

      - grinding up sulfur candles purchased from the local store
      - making charcoal by charring wood on a small fire outside
      - making saltpeter from cow manure from local fields

    So get your kid a book like:

    http://www.amazon.com/Do---Yourself-Gunpowder-Cookbook/dp/0873646754/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285872731&sr=1-1 [amazon.com]

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @03:25PM (#33751314) Homepage Journal

    Obviously, I know that lifetime institutionaliation costs more than $300,000. I've seen the calculations for vector borne encephalitis when $10M/case averted was considered reasonable in the 1990s.

    I'm using institutionalization as an extreme case, the right end of the scale where "paper cut" is on the left end. For sake of argument, I'm assuming we're most concerned with injuries whose responses fall in the range between first aid and a trip to the emergency room. That seems a reasonable range of severity to consider for a kit made out of common, everyday items.

    The point is that the scale of distribution governs what is economically rational. If we have reasonable expectation of injuries requiring extended hospitalization, we aren't going to give that kit to a *single* user until it's been examined by somebody who really knows what he's doing. But that assumption negates the value of the thought experiment. I needed assumptions that are reasonable, yet favorable to the null hypothesis, which is that you *never* have to think about the safety of a kit that's made out of common, everyday items.

  • by elsJake ( 1129889 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @04:37PM (#33752416)
    Euros and dollars don't have stupid orders of magnitude , you have either one euro/dollar or cents (in both cases 1/100)
    Latin and Cyrillic , just different symbols , same as the euro/dollar thing , just different names , you don't add letters either.
    German vs Norwegian , language , well ok this one might be _slightly_ comparable to the issue at hand , one has to be a little more rantional than the other.
    Zed and Zee , again , just an aesthetic issue.

    Inches vs centimeters 1 m = 100 cm , 1 Foot = 12 inches. Now quickly tell me how many inches does it take to span 892360213452 feet cause i can just add two zeros at the end to do the conversion in metric.
    If one foot was some arbitrary scale of a meter and it would be equal to 10 inches i would have no problem with it and would've cheerfully agreed with your analogies , but it is not.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"