Posts Tagged ‘recalls’
Although the quote has been attributed to Einstein, no one knows who said it first. But, whoever it was, their words were indeed genius:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Case in point: In the month of May, alone, nearly 25,850 defective children’s sweatshirts and jackets have been recalled, because their drawstrings created a strangulation hazard. In April, there were 24,300. In March, a staggering 50,295. But February wins the prize for insanity, with 227,200 of these sweatshirts and jackets recalled.
Actually, this goes beyond insanity. Consider this: In 1994, in response to 17 child deaths and 42 serious accidents, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) presented evidence to the garment industry that these drawstrings, “could kill children.” The neck drawstrings could — and had killed children by strangulation, when the drawstrings got caught on slides and fences where children played, or on their crib rails. The waist drawstrings could — and had killed children by getting unknowingly caught in school bus or car doors, then dragging the children until they fell under the wheels of the moving vehicle. These drawstrings could — and had killed children whose drawstrings got entangled and pulled them into death matches with escalators, farm machinery, ski lifts….
The garment industry “promised that garments without these drawstrings would be available to consumers beginning with the Spring or Fall 1995 clothing lines.” What they didn’t promise, however, was to stop making them entirely.
In 1996, the CPSC again presented their evidence to the garment industry, only this time, they provided written guidelines (see the hood/neck guideline, below), hoping that the garment industry would voluntarily comply and stop using drawstrings. The following year, in 1997, the ASTM (the American Society for Testing and Materials, in charge of testing children’s clothing for safety) adopted the CPSC guidelines as part of their “voluntary consensus standard” titled, ASTM 1816-97, for the clothing industry. Mind you, neither the CPSC or the ASTM ever breathed the words, “ban” or “mandatory” in their guidelines and standards. They left it to the discretion of the garment industry to stop making clothing that “could kill children.”
Nearly 10 years later, and in the wake of more deaths and serious injuries, the CPSC decided in 2006 to post a letter on its website “to the manufacturers, importers and retailers of children’s upper outerwear, citing the fatalities and urging them to comply with the industry standard, ASTM F 1816-97. The letter explained that the CPSC staff considers children’s upper outerwear with drawstrings at the hood or neck area to be defective and to present a substantial risk of injury under section 15(c) of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), 15 U.S.C. 1274(c).” To give teeth to their pleas, the CSPC also advised that they would slap these manufacturers, retailers and importers with civil fines if they continued making defective clothing. Of course, the CPSC has rarely followed through on this threat.
Is it any wonder, then, that in the year 2010, these drawstring garments continue to be manufactured by the billions and recalled by the millions each year? Is it any wonder that, since the CPSC issued its first warning in 1994, another dozen children — ages 2 through 14 — have been strangled or maimed or pulled into machinery or dragged under the wheels of moving vehicles in accidents caused by these drawstrings?
Here, it’s difficult to know who to blame. Do we blame the manufacturers (dozens of them in 2010, alone, hailing from all over the globe, from China to Mexico, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Peru, Pakistan, India and the U.S.) who have spent the past 16 years thumbing their nose at the evidence that their garments “could kill children”? Or should we blame the CPSC and the ASTM for their milquetoast response to these deaths? Or should we blame the retailers (e.g. various department stores & boutiques, but especially Burlington Coat Factory, which carries the bulk of these recalled garments) for repeatedly stocking their shelves with these sweatshirts, jackets and coats? Or do we blame the consumers, who keep the law of supply and demand alive by continually buying these defective clothes?
Whoever is to blame, the fact remains that — in 2010 alone — there have been 327,645 children’s garments recalled because they were made with built-in hangman’s nooses. Granted, the short-term remedy is simple enough. Remove the drawstrings or, if they’re sewn in, cut the strings off before allowing the child to wear the garment. But this really isn’t enough. After all, this same insanity has been playing out for years with other children’s products — from toys to jewelry to furniture & accessories.
During the first 5 months of 2010, for instance, there have been over 1.5 million cribs recalled due to suffocation and strangulation hazards. This is just a fraction of the 7 million that have been recalled over the past 5 years — a toll that doesn’t even take into account the number of recalled Simplicity brand cribs sold over the past decade or so, whose numbers are unknown and, according to the CSPC, can’t be counted. Since 2000, forty-six children have been killed in defective cribs. Many more have been injured, some suffering permanent brain damage.
Just this month, the CSPC again issued a “warning” to parents against using drop-side cribs (a warning that encompasses just about any crib brand or manufacturer you could name: Storkcraft, Graco, Simplicity and Fisher Price, along with a slew of “boutique” brands). The parents got a warning, while the manufacturers still have carte blanche to keep making them until the proposed ban on the sale of these cribs takes effect at year’s end.
In response, some, but not all crib manufacturers have promised to stop making drop-side cribs real soon, no kidding. Of course, drop-sides are not the only dangerous flaw to crib designs. The manufacturers know this, and so do the CPSC and ASTM. One design flaw, which I personally found present among the inventory of every single crib retailer I recently visited (from elite boutiques to department stores, and from $150 cribs to $1500 cribs) were corner posts and design elements on the upper crib rail that extended over 1/16″ in height — a potentially deadly flaw that is nothing short of criminal on the part of the crib manufacturers. They know better.
For their part, the ASTM has announced plans to introduce tougher guidelines on cribs by year’s end, which will hopefully be tougher than their existing standards and testing, which gave a green light to most of the 7 million cribs that have been recalled over the past 5 years. Not to mention the millions of drawstring garments that have been recalled since the ASTM issued their voluntary standards 13 years ago.
On a related note, the CPSC is still hard at work on those drawstrings. Sixteen years ago, the CPSC described their efforts to stop the sale of these garments as a “fiery determination and creativity to solve the problem.” Today, the CPSC is poised to make a rule that will “enhance understanding in the [garment] industry about how the Commission views such garments.” Reading that line, I can almost hear Scarlett O’Hara breathing those words into Rhett’s ear, using her sultriest southern accent. The CPSC’s goal is modest. They simply want to rephrase their earlier plea to the garment industry, changing the verbiage to reflect this truth: children’s clothing with drawstrings “constitutes substantial product hazards.”
Granted, the wording isn’t quite as strong as it was 16 years ago, when the CPSC advised the garment industry that such clothing “could kill children.” But, heck, maybe the CPSC is onto something. Maybe that’s the key: tone down the verbiage, and quit prattling on about dead children. Try that, and see if those manufacturers don’t stop making products that could kill children. If that doesn’t work, heck, ten years down the road, you can always consider a law to ban the things outright.
There’s a word for people who do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. It’s called insanity. But I wouldn’t necessarily accuse manufacturers of dangerous children’s clothing, cribs, jewelry and toys as being insane, just soulless. They’ve done the math. The payout in potential lawsuits for wrongful deaths and injuries pales in comparison to the killing they can make selling defective items. And apparently business is good enough that — even with billions of recalled products each year — there’s still big money in manufacturing dangerous products. The retailers, such as Burlington Coat Factory, have done the math, too. They know that — even with the occasional $600,000 civil penalty for selling hazardous products — there’s a killing to be made retailing defective goods. For their part, the CPSC and the ASTM are, at best, impotent to fulfill their roles as the vanguards of product safety; at worst, they’re in the pockets of industry, just like everyone else.
But the consumers who knowingly buy these defective products over and over and over — they’re the ones who sustain the demand for defective products. Whether it’s a hangman’s noose, a death trap disguised as a crib, a pretty trinket laced with cadmium and lead, or a toy with small parts that even a monkey could see would choke a child, the consumers keep buying them.
The sane thing would be to stop buying defective products. Stop buying drop-side cribs, clothing with drawstrings, cheap children’s jewelry from China, toys with small parts. Then, like magic, the manufacturers would stand up and do the right thing. They’d stop making them faster than you can say show me the bottom line. They might even roll out a campaign, patting themselves on the back for taking the initiative to stop selling dangerous products for children. Let them do this. The important thing is that the children — past, present and future — who are killed by these products do not die in vain.
For more information or to take action:
CLOTHING SAFETY: Read CPSC’s documentation and proposed new rule, dated May 17, 2010 and titled, “The Determination That Children’s Upper Outerwear in Sizes 2T to 12 With Neck or Hood Drawstrings and Children’s Upper Outerwear in Sizes 2T to 16 With Certain Waist or Bottom Drawstrings Are a Substantial Product Hazard.”
- From this same webpage, you can also access the Federal eRulemaking Portal, where you can submit your own comments on the CPSC’s proposed rule. To leave a comments, simply follow the link to the Federal eRulemaking Portal, then enter the CPSC document number CPSC-2010-0043 into the keyword/ID space on this page and click “search.” This will take you to a page where you can leave a comment. A sample comment might read: As a member of the American public, which your agency serves to protect from dangerous products, I would demand that the CPSC set aside this latest effort to urge voluntary compliance with the garment industry. I would ask that you put an immediate end to 16 years of ineffective CPSC guidelines and, instead, institute an outright mandatory ban on the types of drawstring garments you describe in your proposed rule. To do any less pays a grave disrespect to the painful lessons left by the children who were killed by these dangerous products.
PRODUCT RECALLS: To keep up to date on current product recalls, make regular visits to the CPSC Recall pages, where you can also observe an insane pattern, as the same types of dangerous products get recalled over and over and over again. While you’re at it, you may as well also visit the FDA Recalls pages, where you can see the latest food and drug recalls. Here, you will also observe a similarly insane pattern, as the same types of dangerous products get recalled over and over and over again.
The latest food recall, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), involves “140,000 pounds of fully cooked assorted meat products because they contain an undeclared allergen, wheat starch.” My gripe today isn’t so much with the “undeclared” ingredient, even as this could pose a serious health risk for someone with wheat allergies. I”ve pretty much come to accept that most of the food we eat comes with “undeclared” ingredients, with China winning the prize for frequency and the level of danger.
No, my gripe today is with the utter absence of mention in the official recall notice of the country of origin on these meat products:
- 14-ounce packages of “GIO LUA TAY HO PORK MEAT LOAF WRAPPED IN BANANA LEAVES FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL FULLY COOKED.”
- 14-ounce packages of “DOI GIO HEO TAY HO CURED PORK HOCK SAUSAGE WITH ONION WRAPPED IN PORK SKIN FULLY COOKED.”
- 15-ounce packages of “CHA CHIIEN TAY HO FRIED PORK PATTIE FRIED IN VEGETABLE OIL FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN GAN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL WITH BEEF TENDON FULLY COOKED,”
We know this much: this meat was distributed by Westlake Food Corporation, which is variously listed as being “based in” or an “establishment of” Santa Ana, California. But where in the hell were these 140,000 pounds of meat actually processed?
A little digging tells me that Westlake Food Corporation is actually called West Lake Food Corporation. A little more digging tells me that West Lake Food Corporation does not actually process this meat, but is merely an importer/buyer of meats and other meat-like products (including something called “artificial chicken flavor powder”) from Taiwan and China . A little more digging tells me absolutely nothing. My hunch is that, even I held one of these packages of meat in my hands, I’d still not know where it came from, even as I can pretty much bet the bank that the meat was raised and processed in China or Taiwan.
Usually, questions about country of origin can be resolved by contacting a company directly and asking them straight out, as this info is almost never given on their website. In the case of West Lake Foods, however, there is no website. I’ve written the USDA and asked that they begin noting the country-of-origin (who actually made the crap?) with their recall notices. That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.
My final gripe on the West Lake recall is that the USDA lists the West Lake meats as being “produced” between April 15 of last year and April 14, 2010. That could very well be true, but I doubt it. Chances are slim to none that the same meat frozen last Wednesday in China has already arrived in port, via a slow boat to USA, and been distributed in the course of 4 days. Would a little better accuracy be too much to ask from the USDA?
UPDATE 4/19/2010 (only 1 hour after writing this post): The USDA responded to my query and informed me that Westlake/West Lake Foods is, indeed, the official processor of these meets at their facility in Santa Ana. (I still beg to differ, as I’ll explain in a moment). This same USDA employee also advised me that the country-of-origin of any company can be found via this page on the USDA website by simply looking up the company’s name or their designated establishment number. Here, I found that Westlake is officially designated as THE processor of the recalled meats. I have yet to be convinced that West Lake/West Lake Foods (also doing business as Tay Ho Foods),an food importer, actually processes these meats, themselves, except to the extent they may buy tons of already-processed meat from China or Taiwan (such as “Cured Pork Ear and Snout” or “Beef Meat Balls with Beef Tendon,” or “Pork Meat Paste”) then RE-package these products at the Westlake/West Lake/Tay Ho facility in Santa Ana. If that’s the case, it seems there should be a distinction between processing and re-packing products that have already been processed. If it’s not the case, I’d love to be enlightened. Any takers?
With this in mind, I have 3 pieces of advice for the American consumer:
Find out where your food comes from. If you can’t find the information, chances are, it came from China.
- If it came from China, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. (I know, this really isn’t possible anymore, but it’s something to aspire to. At the very least, however, you should know where it came from.)
- By the same token, you can’t really trust stuff from anywhere, including the USA — especially meat. So it’s a really good idea to avoid all meat (Americans eat too much of it, anyway) and to keep yourself updated on the latest recalls, most of which we never hear about.
Keep in mind that less than 1/2 of one-percent of products entering this country (e.g. food, drugs, cosmetics, toys, dishes, furniture, electronics, appliances, fabrics, etc.) are inspected or tested before being passed onto the consumer. An equally miniscule number of products ever undergo testing by the USDA, FDA or CPSC. And — no matter what the country-of-origin — shoddy, dangerous or toxic products are not usually discovered until after the fact, once they’ve already been sold to and used by consumers. Here are two ordinary recalls from March/April of this year — a mere fraction of the contaminated items that may be on our store shelves at any given time:
- Salmonella in upwards of 20 million pounds of Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein made since September 2009, courtesy of Basic Food Flavors Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although this recall took place in March, it’s not old news just yet, and won’t be for a while. If you’re a consumer of even an ounce of food that you didn’t grow yourself, you’ll want to take a closer look at this recall, which encompassed a slew of products. And don’t think you’re safe if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or organics-only consumer. This recall affects a complex chain of distributors, which will likely never be fully known. Here is but a tiny sampling of the known brands/retailers: Trader Joes, Kroger, Publix, McCormick, Durkee, French’s, Pringles, Safeway, Weber, T. Marzetti, National Pretzel Company. Have you bought any of these (or anything that contained any of these) in the past 6 months?
- Bouillon Products
- Dressing and Dressing Mix Products
- Flavoring Base and Seasoning Products
- Frozen Food Products
- Gravy Mix Products
- Prepared Salad Products
- Ready-to-Eat Meal Products
- Sauce and Marinade Mix Products
- Snack and Snack Mix Products
- Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix Products
- Spread Products
- Stuffing Products
If so, you’ll want to check out the official roster of brands, products and retailers. Because you might still have some of these products in your cabinets or freezer. That is, if you haven’t already eaten them and wondered, the next day, why your GI tract was all messed up. Perhaps you came down with fever, diarrhea (possibly with blood) nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Or maybe a mysterious heart infection. Or arthritis. Hopefully, this didn’t happen to any elderly people, young children or individuals with compromised immune systems, as it may have killed them. That Basic Food Flavors, Inc. knew about this salmonella contamination for several months before the actual recall seems criminal, but I’m no lawyer. Here’s another recall:
- Whole beef heads from North Dakota, which contain a “prohibited” ingredient. It seems that the good folk at North American Bison Co-Op forgot to remove the tonsils. And eating tonsils is as good a way as any to catch mad cow disease. According to the USDA, tonsils are considered a “specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed from cattle of all ages in accordance with FSIS regulations. SRMs are tissues that are known to contain the infective agent in cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), as well as materials that are closely associated with these potentially infective tissues. Therefore, FSIS prohibits SRMs from use as human food to minimize potential human exposure to the BSE agent.” Note the word, ‘minimize.” The fact is, eating any beef from any country is the best way to date for playing Russian roulette with this disease, which will not hit you til years down the road, by which time, you’ll hard-pressed to guess which hamburger, which steak, which soup was the culprit. The only way to truly “minimize” your risk for catching mad cow disease is to not eat any beef at all, period.
But BSE isn’t the only danger lurking in meat. Even if you’re not savvy or particularly concerned about issues such as factory farming and the depletion/destruction of the earth’s resources, species and eco-systems, it’s a good idea, from the standpoint of personal safety, to cut out all meat — whether fish, fowl, pork or beast of burden. Either that, or keep your finger poised over the link to USDA recall bulletins as they arrive, because E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria (not to mention the various other unintentional or “undeclared” ingredients) are regular arrivals to the list. And with such a tiny percentage of contaminated products ever recalled, (and this, usually only once the meat has been distributed throughout the country) you are playing Russian roulette with any meat product you eat. Which is certainly your right, if that’s what you want.
Fool you once….
Here’s a list of recalled Current Recalls & Alerts from the USDA website. Includes all recalls from the past year that are still active.
Here’s the USDA’s list of Archived Recalls (recalls that have been officially completed) which is a kind of creepy list, if you compare the number of pounds that were recalled vs. the number of pounds actually recovered.
And while you’re at it, you may as well check out the April 2010 product recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the list of products recalled due to various contaminations (e.g. lead) or to manufacuring flaws ranging from faulty manufacturing to insanely dangerous. May as well also check out March and February and January. If you’re the observant sort, you might detect a pattern on these lists, as the same products seem to get recalled over and over again.
Fool you twice, shame on you
On this note, EARTH TO PARENTS: Since manufacturers (particularly those in China) can’t seem to learn from the experiences of the many parents who have suffered the most painful heartbreak imaginable from the injury, poisoning or death of their child from dangerous and inferior products, it’s up to you to be the guardian of your children and avoid buying products that, over and over, have shown to be dangerous. Here are a few tips:
Quit buying jewelry from China for your children. Very little of it gets tested, and a ridiculous amont of it is tainted with lead, cadmium, radioactive waste and whatever else is in the waste dumps they melt down to make into cheap jewelry.
Don’t buy toys, books and clothes from China. They’re likely to include anything from lead to arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, phthalates, radioactive waste and a host of other dangerous things.
Use your noodle and don’t buy toys for younger children that have small parts (anything smaller than 1-3/4″, aka anything that would fit inside a cardboard toilet-paper tube). These are choking hazards, and there’s no glue, screw or bolt that you can trust with the life of your child.
Don’t buy toys, clothes or books with small magnets smaller than the above-mentioned dimensions.
Don’t buy cribs with drop down-sides. They’re death traps.
Don’t buy any of these new sleeping apparatuses for children that have hit the market, such as playpen-bassinet combos. These are also death traps. Use your noodle. Research cribs, playpens, bassinets and cradles. Buy something safe, and steer away from newly-designed contraptions, which have been inadequately tested for safety, with living children being the lab rats in these experimental designs.
Avoid like hell mini-blinds from China and Taiwan, which are nearly always contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, which are dispersed into the air as dust.
And, for godsakes, don’t leave mini-blind cords where a child can be hung by them. Cut the damned things off, if that’s what it takes.
If you must buy jackets, sweatshirts and hoodies with ties around the neck or waist, cut the cords/strings off before you allow your child to wear them. Do you know that this is an accident waiting to happen? In my own town, within the span of 10 seconds, a 4-year old child went down the slide at his preschool and had his neck snapped, just like that. Dead in 10 seconds, no saving him. Avoid waist cords, too, which can get caught in, say, a school bus door, and become a bizarre accident and a parent’s worst nightmare.
There’s a sea of water bottles to choose from out there, but the list grows really short, once you cast out all the bottles made in China. While the ideal portable water bottle may be stainless steel, you’ll not find one on my list (below) of recommended bottles. This is because, without exception, all stainless steel water bottles are made in China. According to one manufacturer I contacted, who’d recently added a line of stainless steel bottles to their line:
Stainless is literally impossible to manufacture in the US unless you can charge $100 per bottle. There were only 2 factories in the entire US that entertained the idea. One eventually said they couldn’t do it, and the other could do it but for a price nobody would pay.
They’re right, of course. While there are apparently many consumers who’d think nothing of shelling out $100 or $200 for a $2 canvas or nylon Juicy Couture or a Burberry bag made in China, (or, say, $300 for a purple nylon Prada cosmetics bag no bigger than an index card, and which was, in all likelihood, secretly made in China for less than a penny on the dollar) – these same people would rail at the idea of paying $100 for a stainless steel water bottle. Particularly for a water bottle that — come next year — might be just as un-trendy as last year’s $200 handbag. This arrangement works out just fine for trend-savvy consumers, who demand their water bottles not only hydrate them, but make a fashion statement as well. Fact is, most reusable water bottles are really only so for a short time before they fall apart, spring a leak, develop a yucky taste or are found to be toxic.
Those manufacturers were also right about the cost to manufacture that $100 stainless steel water bottle. This isn’t due, as we’ve been told, to the evils of unions and industry regulations & standards in the USA. It’s because, in the real world, that’s how much it costs to manufacture a stainless steel water bottle. Germany knows this. Japan knows it. Canada knows it. Switzerland knows it. France knows it. Otherwise, they’d all be making their own stainless steel bottles, instead of setting up shop in China. And why shouldn’t they? After all, China is cranking them out by the millions for a fraction of the real world cost.
Case in point: Until Thermos shipped their operations over to China, the price for a 32 oz. stainless steel Thermos bottle was keeping pace (just like the cost of sugar, cotton, iron, steel and labor) with the Consumer Price Index of the BLS. So, yes, according to the BLS calculator, the $15 price tag on that 1960 stainless Thermos bottle would now be just over $100. That is, were the bottle still being made in the USA — or for that matter in any developed country where workers are paid fair wages, and where a modicum of industrial, environmental, worker and product safety standards are observed.
Yet, a stainless steel water bottle can easily be bought today for a mere $5 – a third of what they cost 50 years ago! The lack of a lifetime guarantee — or even a guarantee that, a year down the road, this same bottle won’t be found to contain toxic materials — seems to be no impediment to the lure of goods made in China.
All of which goes to explain the absence of stainless steel water bottles on my list. That leaves just glass and plastic, neither of which I’d recommend buying from China. The glass bottles I recommend are made in either the USA or Italy (with the latter made by Bormioli Rocco, the renowned maker of pharmaceutical, food-grade and fine glassware vessels). The plastic bottles are all made in the USA, with two partial exceptions to the rule, which are boldly noted in my descriptions, below.
But first, an update on BPA and phthalates….
All of the plastic bottles below are advertised as being free of the more famous endocrine disruptors — BPA and phthalates – with which most consumers are now familiar. However, the emerging science, which we’ll be hearing about soon enough, indicates that BPA and phthalates (such as DEHA and DEHP), are only a few of the hundreds of endocrine disrupting, estrogenic-active (EA) chemicals used in plastic manufacturing. And because EA chemicals tend to accumulate in the body with repeated exposures, and because they may also be associated with health issues ranging from from birth defects, low birth weight, diabetes, obesity, genetic damage and learning disorders, to male sterility and reproductive cancers, this seems an important factor for anyone — but particularly those with health problems or a compromised immune system – to consider when purchasing plastic products for personal use. To date, only one company, Hydrapak, has taken a pioneering role in addressing this concern and made a plastic water bottle certified to be EA-free. For this reason, Hydrapak’s PureBot water bottle tentatively (until the science tells us otherwise) earns the number one slot among plastic water bottles. But the number one choice for water bottles is glass which, after 3,000 years, is still the cat’s pajamas.
- HercuGlass Water Bottles (the almost unbreakable water bottle)– Face it, cold water just tastes better out of a glass bottle. If you grew up in the 1950s-60s, like me, and your mom kept one of those classic green glass bottles in the fridge, you know what I’m talking about. While there’s no such thing as break-proof glass, HercuGlass is designed to withstand drops that would shatter most glass. (Watch some trial drops in this YouTube video). These water bottles are available in 3 basic styles — flasks, sports bottles and the classic European mineral water bottle shape. The capacities range from 8 ounces to 34 ounces. Because they’re glass, all you taste is pure water. Plus, you can also drink fruit juices or add a lemon slice without fear of it interacting with the plastic. The manufacturing process on HercuGlass is a little different than most glassware, as the bottles undergo an additional ion-strengthening process, developed at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. The end result is a line of high-strength glassware — from beer steins to canning jars to water bottles — tested to withstand up to 7-foot drops without breaking. (But just to be safe, the company also sells $6 zip-up Koozies with their water bottles for insulation and as added protection against breakage.) While hikers, cyclists, campers and college students reportedly use HercuGlass water bottles without incident, there’s no getting around the fact that glass does require extra precaution to carry, which may be too impractical for some people and some situations. For those people, this bottle would still make a fine water bottle for home use, bed-side hydration and lighter-duty travels — perfect occasions for setting aside the plastic bottle which, no matter how you spin it, is inferior to glass in every way, except portability. Average price $8.45 to $14.95, depending on size/style. Made in either the USA or Italy, depending upon which bottle style you choose.
- PureBot Aside from being certified EA-free, the PureBot is durable, dishwasher safe, and reasonably priced. I’ve tried this bottle myself and found it to be leak-proof, lightweight, with no off-taste from the plastic. I like the pull-up sports top, which means it’s simple to get a drink of water — no unscrewing of lids, no sucking like a hamster, no ingenious contraptions to fall apart. (I could wish for an attached dirt/germ cover of some sort, but I’m not complaining). I also like the wide-mouth lid, which makes it easy to fill with ice cubes. It’s made of recyclable #4 plastic and comes in only two color-design choices (a grassy scene and a blue squiggly design), which may be a bummer if you’re the sort who also demands a fashion statement from your water bottle. This bottle is available in only a few select fitness/athletic stores, which means that most of us will have to buy it online, via Hydrapak. At this reasonable price, it may be worth taking up a pool and buying several to save on shipping costs. Average cost $9.99 for a 24 oz. bottle. Made in Texas, USA.
- Platypus Soft Bottle The first thing you need to know about the Platy, as it’s users affectionately call this water bottle, is that this is not really a bottle at all, but a bag that looks remarkably similar to an IV bag. As such, it is almost guaranteed to draw questions and comments from curious onlookers. The reviews of seasoned Platypus users are nearly always glowing. For starters, the Platy is astoundingly durable and featherlight — a huge plus for campers and hikers. While I don’t personally recommend heating plastic — ever — Platy users routinely freeze or boil the bag, using it for anything from from ice water to hot coffee (hence its double-duty as an ice pack or a hot water bottle). Most users report that it leaves no off-taste and rarely springs a leak — even after up to 10 years of heavy-duty use. And because it’s a bag, its shape conforms, unlike hard bottles, to fit inside purses, totes, luggage and backpacks when full. And when empty, you hardly know it’s there. Simply fold it and slip into your pocket or bag. The drawbacks? Some bag designs require a longer attention span to fill with water, and — although you can put it into the dishwasher — the only way to really cleaning the bag is to swish soapy water around the inside, then rinse. The larger bags require two hands to hold while drinking. Plus, if you’re the sort who likes to make a fashion statement, there’s nothing like sucking on an IV bag to convey the message, “I’m too sexy for my water.” Sizes range from a .5 liter (17 ounce) bag to 1 liter (about a quart) to a whopping 3 liter or even a gallon bag (for campers and such). There are several drinking apparatuses available — the hyper-flow bite valve, the push-pull sports cap, and the closure cap (a generic bottle lid, just like the ones on disposable water bottles). Average price $7.95 and up, depending on size. Made by Cascade Designs in the USA.
OTHER NOTES: I’m not sure what the Platypus is made of, as the company site (Cascade Designs) is down. According to one (likely incorrect) product description, it is made of “welded, triple-layer plastic laminate lined with food-grade polyethylene.” Another description — likely the correct one — reports that the Playpus is made of “#5 polypropylene plastic”. If I remember to, I’ll update this info once the Cascade Design site returns. For now, we at least know that, unlike some of the plastic bottles on this page, the Platypus is genuinely recyclable
- Thermos Tritan Copolyester Intak water bottles (EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The lid on this bottle was made in China. The bottle itself is made in the USA). The Thermos line of Intak bottles is made from Tritan CoPolyester, which is rigid, clear and claims to be BPA-free. The Intak offers 3 drinking apparatus designs — the screw-off lid, the straw, and the pop-up lid with spout. The first two designs (both 18 oz. bottles) have problems. The screw-off lid is a pain in the neck. The straw design is worse, as the water tends to sneak and wick up the straw between drinks, then dribble out (or, alternately, will create a geyser-effect and spray you when you open the straw). But I can highly recommend the pop-up lid design, which I’ve tried. I like the way it keeps the drinking spout covered between drinks — an important consideration for anyone working or playing in the dirt, or for those who might be using their bottle in germ-ridden places, esp. hospitals and doctor’s offices. There are two caveats. One, this bottle must be carried upright, as it may leak if carried sideways or upside-down. The Thermos company acknowledges this as the trade-off to creating this spiffy, easy-to-use drinking apparatus. The second caveat is about the little plastic seal in the lid of the cap. Don’t lose it. According to some users, this seal falls off, gets lost and renders the bottle terribly leaky. I’ve not had this problem — the seal seems quite secure — but, then, I always hand-wash plastic. I don’t put it into a dishwasher, which I suspect may play a role in making these seals more prone to falling off. Average price $8 to $12, widely available. Bottle made in the USA, lid made in China.
OTHER NOTES: Tritan Copolyester is a #7 plastic, which means that — until further notice — it is not recyclable in most municipalities. Lastly, according to the Thermos representative I contacted, all of their products are made in China, except for their plastic bottles.
- Nalgene water bottles Nalgene offers 3 lines of bottles that claim to be BPA-free: Tritan Copolyester, HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Within these three lines are many sizes/colors/styles/drinking apparatuses from which to choose. I have not tried these bottles but — like the Thermos Intak (above) — people seem to either love or hate them. This is primarily a matter of personal preference for one design/configuration over another. Amazon is a good place to read consumer reviews regarding the pros and cons on any given design/configuration to see what will best suit you. Average price $5 to $12, depending on size/design. According to the person I contacted at Nalgene, the bottle and lids are both made in New York, USA.
OTHER NOTES: Nalgene is phasing out its line of polycarbonate bottles, which do contain BPA. All of their standard water bottles are recyclable except for the Tritan Copolyester — a #7 plastic which is, again, not recyclable in most municipalities. Nalgene also carries a water bottle (bag) similar to the Platypus, however, it is made in China.
- Polar Bottles (EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The foil liners on these bottles are made in China. The rest of the bottle is made in the USA). Designed for cyclists, these nifty plastic bottles are made of LDPE and have an insulating outer cover, which keeps water cold and also helps prevent sweating. The drinking valve is made of urethane, which may or may not be an issue. I’m no chemist. I’ve not used this bottle, but it generally gets rave reviews from users, although (because this is a squeeze-type bottle) some complain about the amount of pressure necessary to squeezing water out. This may be an important consideration for younger folk (with smaller hands) or for anyone whose hand strength is not up to par. The Polar Bottle is BPA-free, recyclable, and offers a diverse color selection, with prices ranging from $9 to $12. Except for the outer liner, the bottle is made in Colorado, USA.
OTHER NOTES: Why did I made exceptions on the no-China rule with the Polar Bottle and Thermos Tritan components? Mainly to offer more choices, as there are really so few bottles being made in the USA. Here, it’s reasonable to expect that — since the bottles themselves are made in the USA, and because the liner and cap are not in constant contact with the drinking water — there may be less opportunity for leaching.
Bio Plastic Bottles There are several companies in the U.S. making water bottles from so-called “green” or bio plastics, which are variously made of corn and other vegetable matter (some of them GMO) and/or have additives in the plastic to help them biodegrade within just a few months or years, rather than the 1,000 for conventional plastics. Good idea. But the emphasis seems to be on biodegradability, with little attention paid to personal safety, in terms of what these plastics may be leaching into drinking water. This question is particularly pertinent to bio plastics with applied colors and designs – a matter than has yet to be raised in the drinking-water community, but which has been raised in the medical industry, during their trial efforts to use (and apply labeling to) these plastics. Also, while these bottles claim to be sustainably made and recyclable, they’re all #7 plastics, so they’re not really recyclable just yet. Users report off-putting tastes in these bio-plastics just as often as in conventional plastic. Bio plastics may or may not be a step in the right direction, in terms of sustainability, but in terms of their safety as drinking vessels, I’ve not found the research and testing to back this up. So I can’t give a thumbs-up, just yet, to bio plastics.
Aluminum or stainless steel water bottles — The only metal bottle not being made in China is the Siggs aluminum water bottle, made in Switzerland, which continues draw concerns — not only because of the questionable safety of drinking from aluminum, but from the ongoing concerns over the unknown safety of the resin liners in these bottles. Responding to these concerns, Siggs recently introduced their Steelworks line of stainless steel bottles, made in (where else?) China.
And speaking of China…
Because China has a proven track record of manufacturing steel products contaminated with everything from lead to cadmium, asbestos, Cobalt-60 and other radioactive wastes, I wouldn’t recommend any stainless steel water bottle from China, no matter how heroic the safety measures and guarantees, such as this one from a manufacturer of children’s stainless steel water bottles:
“We are an American company however our products are manufactured in China. We have done everything to ensure our factories, worker conditions and products are up to our standards. To do so, we visit our factories frequently. The factories are very clean, orderly and humane. Most importantly, they are ISO (International Standards of Operation) certified which is very difficult to attain and comes from an outside agency that audits for manufacturing processes and standards. Finally, we have the independent testing lab, STR, test all elements of our products from the steel and plastic compounds, to FDA and European child safety standards, to the durability of the stainless steel body – just to make sure.”
Just to make sure, I could ramble off a list of other manufacturers who, just a few years ago, were making similar claims claims about doing “everything to ensure our factories, worker conditions and products are up to our standards,” in the manufacturing of their brands of baby food, baby formula, baby furniture, children’s toys & jewelry, apple juice, cookies, dishes, exploding frying pans, dog food, rice, tea, chocolates, toothpaste, shampoo, clothing and drywall, that were later discovered (doh!) to contain melamine or dangerous levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde and/or a host of other contaminants.
Yet, American companies continue to tell us that the costs are too prohibitive to manufacture goods in the U.S.A. It’s somehow cheaper to do it in China — even with all the extra effort and manpower necessary “just to be sure” that their products don’t fall prey to the China-recall syndrome. Perhaps it’s the lack of environmental regulations. Or the lack of worker safety standards. Or the cheap ingredients. Or the shoddy workmanship. Or the slave-wage labor (12-cents an hour will buy you a lot more sweat than the living wages paid in the U.S.). Whatever it is, it must be worth it, because American companies continue to flock like lemmings to China, assuring us as they go that they are doing “everything” to assure the safety of these products.
If these manufacturers were genuinely concerned about the health and safety of their customers (not to mention the health of the American economy), they’d pull up stakes and move shop back to the USA. And not to a private US-prison, with its own built-in slave labor work force, but to a genuine American factory, just like in the old days, when we had a viable economy. And they’d quit bellyaching about complying with environmental, industry, worker safety and product safety regulations and standards. Because, truth is, our hands aren’t so clean, either. The U.S.A. turns out its own share of toxic, shoddily constructed products. We just don’t hear about it.
The bottom line is this: The cost of manufacturing goods in China has long been too prohibitive to the health of the American consumer — not to mention our economy. These so called “American” manufacturers might be surprised to know just how many people would gladly shell out the extra bucks to buy a water bottle (or a yard of fabric, a crib, a toy, a book, a tube of toothpaste, a dress, a purse, a bag of dog food, a bicycle, a candy bar, a cell phone, a smoked salmon, a television, a desk, a bottle of vitamins, and most anything you can name) that was not grown, processed and/or manufactured in China.
If one of these manufacturers would be so bold as to try peddling integrity as well as Juicy Couture and Prada market vanity, they could make a handsome profit. It doesn’t take much googling to see that the world is full of people looking for products not made in China. They’re not looking for another $5 stainless steel bottle made in China. Just a product they can be reasonably certain will not poison them, injure them, or make them sick.
Spin the Bottle
Back when I was a kid, we used to dig really deep holes in the sandbox — going for bedrock because, rumor had it, if we kept digging, we might reach China. So imagine my surprise to find myself today — all grown up, and still digging my way to China. This seems to be the only way anymore to find out where a product was made: start digging and keep digging until you get there.
This has been the case whether researching water bottles, board games, cosmetics & toiletries, fabrics, furniture or toys. It seems that companies are getting more and more clever about dodging the topic or disguising the country-of-origin in their advertising and on their websites. Over time, I’ve learned to spot some of the red flags. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, such as:
- When a company brags about being “headquartered” or “based” in the US, or that its product was “developed in the US,” or “designed in the US,” yet makes no mention of where their product was manufactured….
- Or if a company boasts that they are in “close partnership” with their global team, or that they “adhere to the strictest quality standards in their manufacturing,” yet makes no mention of where their product was made….
- Or if a company proudly tacks the letters “USA” to the end of its name, yet is remiss in mentioning where their products are actually made….
- Or if a company brags overlong about its 100 year history — offering, perhaps, a detailed timeline, beginning with Grandpa’s drug store in Podunk, New York — yet neglects to mention in whose third-world basement this product is now being made….
- Or if a company gushes green over their concern for the health of the planet and its people — and has a artfully laid out website, complete with a with a tasteful, minimalist line of products to back up their claim (and may even be involved in noble, charitable works to bring clean water to impoverished people) — yet makes no mention of where their oh-so sustainable, green, recycled, recyclable, responsibly manufactured products are being manufactured, you can bet the bank that they’re being made in China.
Still, it’s a basic human kindness to give them the benefit of a doubt. When in doubt, ask. Give them a call or write a short, polite email. Most, but not all companies will write you back. The usual explanation goes, “We found it prohibitive to manufacture this product in the USA.” But sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised to hear the voice on the other end of the phone tell you, “Yes, we make all of our products in the USA!”
Still, all this digging makes me a bit tired and soul-weary. I’ve dug my way to China more times than I can count, and I’m here to tell you its not as enchanting as I envisioned back in my sandbox days. But I made it, and I’m back to report that there are a lot of water bottles being made on the other side of the world. Here are a few:
- Bean Canteen
- Charity Bottle
- Contigo (Made by Ignite USA)
- Crocodile Creek
- DAJO Adventure Gear
- Fit & Fresh LivPure
- Good Life Gear
- Great American Products
- Guyot Designs
- Klean Kanteen
- Lifeline (including an extensive line of “Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness” stainless steel water bottles)
- Liquid Logic
- Lock & Lock
- Nalgene Canteen
- New Wave
- PMCI (Penn Marketing Co, Inc.)
- PMI (Pacific Marketing International)
- Pure Hydration
- Shinzi Katoh
- Siggs (Stainless Steel bottles only)
- Thermos (all lines but the plastic)
- Together Bottles
- US Canteen
So long as we keep buying them, these manufacturers will keep giving us exactly what we demand — millions of cheap, pretty bottles that may or may not be hazardous to our health. Chances are, we’ll never know.
submitted by L. Lance