Why does China put lead in/on everything?
November 29, 2007 8:43 PM   Subscribe

what's so great about lead and why are Chinese companies using so much of it?

is it because it's malleable or heavy or ?
posted by flowerofhighrank to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Lead is also added to paint to speed drying, increase durability, retain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture which causes corrosion.
posted by sugarfish at 8:44 PM on November 29, 2007

it has a nice mouth feel

it makes your paint better

it is cheap, cheap, cheap

the individual manufacturer can save money and mostly get away with it

spank your kids or buy them toys from China - which is the bigger sin this holiday season? Better spank them when they put that Chinese toy into their mouth.

seriously, it all comes down to making a sturdy paint covering for the least money, toxins be damned.
posted by caddis at 9:10 PM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's cheap.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:11 PM on November 29, 2007

Because you use lead in paint, and people want paint on everything.
posted by pompomtom at 9:35 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's cheap.

Specifically, it's a very cheap way to get a very bright white base, which is what you need to make something shiny with the ability to accept intensely deep pigments. You can get something pretty close using titanium and zinc oxides, but that's a lot more expensive.

You're not likely to see lead paint used in a matte brown picture frame, just on things that are vibrantly colored and bright -- like toys.

We are literally killing ourselves because we like shiny things. The Chinese companies are doing it because the American companies that hire them are interested primarily in getting things made at the lowest possible price -- and they (intentionally) don't do much quality testing once the toys hit our shores. If a factory owner can use cheaper paint, and get away with it, he can raise his profit margins, and still deliver a finished product at an impossibly low price.

The consequences of getting caught are fairly minor at the moment (honor notwithstanding). No penalties have been issued to Mattel, who has recalled more toys than anyone else. And the toy companies aren't exactly scrambling to find out which of their previously sold toys might be toxic (their shareholders would rather they not know).

As long as that low price remains the primary factor when bids go out to manufacturers (ahem: Wal-Mart), and the consequences are so, well, inconsequential, we're going to continue to have this problem.
posted by toxic at 9:40 PM on November 29, 2007 [5 favorites]

Slate did an Explainer article on lead paint.
posted by mmascolino at 9:45 PM on November 29, 2007

Fines or such notwithstanding, a major toy recall is a huge financial hit for an American company, plus the publicity is terrible. So the consequences are actually pretty major.

Even worse, enough of this has happened recently so that "Made in China" is beginning to have an even worse connotation than "Made in Japan" had when I was a kid. People are starting to actively look for country-of-origin tags on things and think twice about anything from China. That will have serious repercussions not only for American companies, but for Chinese companies as well.

Just not very rapidly, alas.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:17 PM on November 29, 2007

Remember back in the day, where various toxic substances and dangerous products started getting banned in the US, and we started exporting those substances and products to other countries rather than dumping them at a loss?

What goes around comes around. And now I have to pay a lot more attention to where my children's toys come from, as well as brightly-colored dinnerware and such.

Thanks, unfettered capitalism! You win the day!
posted by davejay at 10:49 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

speaking of which; I'd like to buy a new bright red teapot, but every one I've found comes from China. If anyone knows of one that isn't, please drop me a note via site mail.
posted by davejay at 10:50 PM on November 29, 2007

Lead also helps paint self level which means you can use less tolerance when putting it on and you can put it on thinner.

It would be pretty easy to roll your own red teapot davejay at those DIY ceramic places. Quick too considering you only want the one colour.
posted by Mitheral at 11:11 PM on November 29, 2007

I don't know that they are using so much of it. Do you?

But certainly, they have weaker controls on manufacturing standards, for all sorts of reasons, including sheer corruption.

Consider that if you make "muck metal" or pot metal from melting down scrap, there will be a lot of lead from solder off circuit boards.

Also, if you were serious: cars. Lead batteries. Believe me, I lost 1000s of dollars investing in a battery company that was going broke because of sky-rocketing lead prices, mostly driven by demand from battery manufacturers. As affluence spreads in China, everyone wants a car.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:52 PM on November 29, 2007

Also, its common when dealing with overseas manufacturers to have them suddenly use a different process or different material without telling the client. I've seen this happen in the electronics world and I'm sure it happens in the toy world. So, even if you test the crap out of the first run of production (or first run samples) you might not know that the factory (or one of its materials providers) has moved to lead paint until your customers and the media do.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2007

a major toy recall is a huge financial hit for an American company, plus the publicity is terrible. So the consequences are actually pretty major.

However, recalls are not an inevitable result. Concerning the doctor playset featured in that story, Amazon has stopped selling it, but
Mattel has insisted that children can play doctor safely because the toy "meets the requirements set forth in the federal regulations and international consumer product safety standards, including the existing standards for lead content." Note Mattel did not claim that the toy was free from lead.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:44 AM on November 30, 2007

Fines or such notwithstanding, a major toy recall is a huge financial hit for an American company, plus the publicity is terrible. So the consequences are actually pretty major.

Manufacturers carry product liability insurance that covers the cost of settling lawsuits as well as the costs of a recall. They won't be directly hit with the cost of the recall, just the loss of goodwill and future business (plus higher insurance rates in future, of course.)
posted by happyturtle at 11:06 AM on November 30, 2007

davejay, check out the Fiestaware teapots at Amazon. Made in America.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:05 PM on November 30, 2007

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