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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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  • Viva los trombones! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oldmac31310 ( 1845668 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:20PM (#33748382) Homepage
    Paper clips are great toys/tools. Stop protecting the children from themselves and their inate curiosity and creativity.
  • recommendations? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by magarity ( 164372 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:23PM (#33748428)

    Can anyone recommend a good science kit with all kinds of things about to be banned? I have a 5 1/2 year old who and we could have a good time with a decent kit. Preferably one with plenty of toxic and/or explosive chemicals and of course some sharp objects, etc.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:32PM (#33748562) Homepage

    Important degrees are for the rich. The kids that go to private schools that are not restricted to fischer-price education.

    Public school is for the factory workers, trained to say "yes" and do whatever they are told.

  • by symes ( 835608 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:35PM (#33748600) Journal
    This is an important point - and I wonder if anyone has every bothered to investigate whether a bit of risky fun early in life is more likely to interest kids in science than teaching them from a rather dull text book. When I was a kid a bunch of us went on a school trip to a nuclear power reactor. When we visited the control room the senior engineer took us to a panel, turned a dial and made us watch as a temperature guage moved upwards - he had moved the control rod up out of the stack. He explained what was going on, we were all facinated, and then said he ought to put it back or the alarms might go off and he might get in trouble. Ok, not a chemistry set, but it highlights how engaging a bit of real world experimentation can be. I can't imagine kids these days could even get close to insides of a reactor, let alone play with control rods. Those were the days...
  • by AkiraRoberts ( 1097025 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:45PM (#33748780) Homepage
    I agree. Real explosions are fun. Real fire is fun. I still remember the day in 7th grade when we were finally allowed to use bunsen burners. It is in my top 10, despite losing an eyebrow. I think the danger of getting hurt or, in rare cases that probably involve doing something deeply stupid that might well disqualify you from the gene pool, killed are outweighed by just how a) fun and b) useful learning science can be.

    And rulers? Rulers? Are you fucking kidding me?
  • Comparison... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @12:55PM (#33748950) Journal
    Hmm. Thinking about banning *rulers* ... In science-class:
    • When I was 9, we did a survey of the people walking past the school. We stopped people and asked them questions. No teachers were present.
    • When I was 10, we all melted glass test-tubes in bunsen-burner flames, did some elementary glass-blowing.
    • When I was 11, we used the lathe in woodwork, the drills and saws in metalwork, the wheel in pottery etc. I recall making a mangonel that could throw a ball-bearing about 50' in metalwork. That was an end-of-year project though, you had to do all the other stuff first.
    • When I was 12, we were all using mercury-based manometers in physics class. Performed our own blood-type identification in Biology (stabbing your finger with a lancet wasn't fun though)
    • When I was 13, we dissected a bull's eye, everyone had their own bull's eye, scalpel, etc.
    • When I was 14, we took turns getting zapped and zapping others with Van de Graaff generators in Physics.More dissection (frogs) in biology.
    • When I was 15, we detonated a thermite bomb in chemistry class, played with Lithium/Sodium and water
    • When I was 16, life became boring because it was all about exams
    • When I was 17, I took the explosives Chemistry specialisation (nothing too extreme, nitrocellulose and the like, but still)
    • When I was 18, exams took priority again...

    They didn't treat us with kid gloves, we were supposed to be midget scientists, not young hooligans. They kept us in order by making anyone who screwed up too much sit out the year (no more practicals, they could just observe). We took liberties, but not *too* many[*].

    Of course, this was in the UK, not the USA. I can't vouch for how they treated kids over here - there's probably a whole bunch of stuff we did that's more dangerous than *rulers* too, but that was just off-the-top-of-my-head...

    [*] Gun-cotton (basically cotton soaked in Nitric acid to form nitrocellulose) is pretty stable when it's wet, but when it dries out, small amounts of friction can set it off. We took a whole load of it to the pavilion on the yearly school sports-day, and forgot about it (we were playing Runequest in-between competing, I had shot-putt that day :). Eventually it dries, falls off the table, goes 'BANG!' and throws fragments of itself all over the place. Of course, those bits dried faster, and they were all over the floor. Pretty soon, walking anywhere in the pavilion would set off more bangs as the stuff exploded underfoot. Then the headmaster walked in. We made ourselves scarce just in time. He wasn't amused :)


  • by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @01:40PM (#33749688) Journal

    If you read the article (yea, I know, I know), you'd notice the issue isn't "to use a ruler without injury". It's about "rigorous safety checks for lead, chemicals, flammability and other potential dangers", with I think emphasis on the lead. The
    Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was passed almost certainly because of all the China-toys-with-lead-paint issues of late, so now there has to be testing to make sure child (12 years old and under) toys wouldn't just randomly make kids sick. Unsurprisingly, then, when you're trying to sell a science kit to elementary schools, you have to test everything. In short, rulers are precisely the sort of otherwise innocuous thing added to a child toy that should be covered under the new law.

    Of course, the real problem to me is focusing on just child toys instead of a more broad testing of products. The simple truth is that product testing in the US has been rather lax for quite a long while. There are also some externality costs to globalization, especially when it comes to the risks of other countries that are unlikely to act upon such gross fraud. Perhaps a system could be created where there would be tariffs on all imports for testing and taxes on all local sells, with refundable tariffs/taxing with sufficient supply-chain tracking and treaties that promise and actually enforce punishment on supply tainting. Of course, I imagine such a system would be largely ignored by the US and China, believing too many countries depend on them to raise tariffs or withhold importation for non-compliance with treaty terms.

    So, I believe that at least as a pragmatic start, the CPSIA is on the right track no matter how absurd it first seems.

  • Old guys chime in... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @02:15PM (#33750312)

    Come on. Who else here remembers when chemistry sets gave you truly dangerous stuff to work with? Not just toxic stuff, not just stuff that could make rapid oxidizers... who here ever had a chemistry set that came with a spinthariscope and a radium source? (Or the really old ones that had a shard of Uranium?)

    The closest thing to this I've ever had was a broken Luminous Dial watch. The most dangerous thing I ever had in a chemistry set was a sample of Mercury. That was fun and is hopefully the reason I'm insane today.

  • by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <digitalunity&yahoo,com> on Thursday September 30, 2010 @02:30PM (#33750568) Homepage

    As someone with a lot of knowledge about regulatory requirements and conformity testing, I can say without a doubt the CPSC is on the right track here.

    The industry's response is all posturing. Testing the metal edges in a ruler for harmful chemicals such as lead is very easy to do, and really not very expensive. Traceability of the raw materials to a source heat lot is essentially free. A single heat lot could produce tens of thousands of rulers, so a single metallurgical test may add a penny or two for a whole lot. There exist many standards for the plastic itself with regards to flame resistance and plastics testing but there is no national standard that I'm aware of regarding plastics toxicity and what is an acceptable level of lead and mercury.

    If indeed the companies discontinue the kits because of the safety testing requirements, then that is basically an admission that they were never doing the safety testing of their own volition to begin with. I'm not even going to make up some bullshit "it's for the kids" argument. Fact is, citizens expect that the products companies sell are safe, whether they be for kids, adults or even pets. Kids may be the first to draw attention where a lack of safety testing exists, but we should all be demanding safer products for ourselves.

    Instead of resisting this, they should be taking the opportunity to give themselves market differentiation by voluntarily starting safety testing.

  • Eventually... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cjcela ( 1539859 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @02:43PM (#33750718)
    Our relentless pursuit of 'safety' will result in an entire generation of morons.

    If one wants to learn, what is needed is proper instruction and access to materials, not new legislation.

    I grew up outside the US. When I was little it was not uncommon to hear people making fun of safety label of products coming from the US. I used to wonder what kind of people need a warning saying 'do not chew the electric cord' on an electric heater, or a label saying 'do not place your hand inside while operating' on a food processor. By limiting access to learning kits and putting more responsibility on the government than on the parents and teachers, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, and the upcoming generations in the head. You cannot educate using fear. Let the little kids alone. Chances are they will not kill themselves using a ruler.
  • by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <digitalunity&yahoo,com> on Thursday September 30, 2010 @05:53PM (#33753470) Homepage

    You just made that up. That's not a rule, maybe it's YOUR rule.

    If you legislate it, there is a guaranteed level playing field because all companies are required to meet the same standard. Most product safety certifications in the US are voluntary, but companies do it anyway because people want safer products and retailers demand that manufacturers do 3rd party safety testing. The market pays for it because the market finds value in that.

    The same is true here. Schools, or students could bear a very slightly higher cost for safer kits because that safety has value. If sales go down because less kits are sold overall, then that is the cost of safety. I'd rather some anonymous ruler manufacturer in China suffer a marginal loss of sales than a bunch of school kids get lead poisoning; don't you?

    As an aside, my sig was written with respect to personal freedoms and politicians who think they can legislate morality. I think it's very unamerican for any law to restrict what people do when there is no harm done. For instance, gay marriage harms no one but offends the religious(who've successfully destroyed the sanctity of marriage themselves), prohibition of liquor sales on sundays, laws against certain sexual acts(which are still on the books in some places), etc.

    From a purely religious viewpoint, it's illogical. Religious fundamentalists seem certain that bad people are going to hell. And yet they deem fit to render their own judgment on people, as if when Jesus said it is gods right alone to judge people that he meant "except for these other people". Do they have so little faith in gods ability to judge that they feel they must step in to be the executioner themselves? Fuckin religious people. Can't even follow their own manual.

    Anyway, if your head didn't fully asplode, that's where my sig came from.

  • I don't know why... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Thursday September 30, 2010 @05:58PM (#33753510) Homepage Journal

    ...the parent post isn't modded to plus a thousand or so.

    When I was a kid - fifty years ago - I ran around with a lead bar in my pocket. I used to hold it in my fist (no, not violent) and squeeze it, because... well, because I could. That bar eventually changed shape until it fit my hand. I held that thing in my hot, sweaty palms for must have been hundreds of hours. I also held pools of mercury, double handfuls, we used to play with it; I had a huge jar that I got from an old furnace warehouse. I never tried to drink it, or eat the lead. I'm cancer free (actually, I was born with a tumor they removed, and none since then), relatively healthy except where I've broken things myself, and still smarter than any of these idiots who want to restrict everything in sight from everyone in order that they are (cough) safer. I swam and tubed in the Delaware river, unsupervised. Across it, for hours in the rapids, in still pools and from the surface to about 20 feet deep. I went caving. Deep caving. I went cliff climbing. We camped in the woods. One time, a friend, about my age, 13 or so, we got a in boat and floated down the Delaware for about a week. Holy crap was that fun. I had a chemistry set; my sister a biology set, complete with a truly awesome microscope (our dad was an SF writer with a degree in biology... he gave cool gifts from time to time.) She would get water from stagnant ponds, while I enjoyed separating H from O and enhancing various combustion events with the resulting O. My friend Mark and I used to stand at the head of the NY subway trains (this was about 6th grade) and ride them -- all day. That'd turn a token into a huge entertainment permit. We hung out at the museum of natural history. I have some great stories about that. We'd go out to Coney Island and swim. We hiked in the woods. We biked between small towns down the side of the highway. We became musicians. We drove fast (for the times) cars; I had a roadrunner and an awesome GTO. We got laid. A lot. There was a pirate radio station. Concerts. Woodstock. We drank. We did drugs. I got caught, and suffered a year of incarceration with violent, nasty kids from Philly; so I learned to fight in order to not be beaten bloody every night. Check it out... the first really bad thing to happen to me, and what caused it, supervised it, created the framework for it? It was the bloody GOVERNMENT, that's what... trying to "help." Wankers.

    When I read that some... unprintable idiot... wants to keep rulers - RULERS - out of chemistry kits, because they're "potentially dangerous", it just makes me want to beat them about the head and shoulders with a wet noodle. What useless, pandering, socially destructive and chickenshit human beings these people are. I pity, really honestly pity, the kids of today, living in their figurative rubber suits with attached life preservers, GPS tags, and pocket treatise on the evils of anything that even remotely might be fun.

    Here's a story for you. My mother - generally open minded, but a bit protective - took me to the hobby store in Port Jervis one time, and I expressed a wish for this huge, multi-door folded-in-on-itself-like-a-tesseract (or so it seemed to me) chemistry set. She looked at it, and told me, "no, it says it's not safe for your age group." Or something very much like that, I guess I don't remember the wording anymore. Anyway, I had a small "safe" set. So I made her a bet. I said if I could show her that the little set I had wasn't "safe", would she let me have the big set? She agreed.

    So the next day, I showed up in her room (ground level on a hill), crossed my arms, and waited. Downstairs, some iron filings, Oxygen, and hydrogen reached "bang" when the glass vessels over the little alcohol burner collapsed and broke, and all of the basement windows blew out with a huge roar. I still remember the dust motes blown out of the cracks between the floorboards of my mom's bedroom dancing in the sunlight from the window.

    She took me right over to get the big set. Then she made me mow the lawn all summer to pay for the windows.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson