A Dangerous Toy Story
How safe are the toys your kids are playing with this Christmas? After the widespread toy recalls of 2007, I assumed the toy industry would have straightened its act out. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The Ecology Center, a Michigan nonprofit, tested 1,500 children’s toys this year for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC and other harmful chemicals.
A Dangerous Toy Story
What’s In Bill Moyers’ Blood
The Green New Year
Editor’s Note: From everyone here at Cabot, we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
It was just over one year ago that my wife Jeanne gave birth to our first child, Lila. No doubt last Christmas was wonderful, but I have to be honest and say I remember very little of it as we struggled to immediately adjust to this extra person. Our lives had consisted of slow rising in the mornings, lazily reading the papers and then, usually around 10-ish, getting to work.
Suddenly we were up every two hours for feeding and up for good at 5 a.m. because that’s how Lila demanded it. I don’t even remember if I got a Christmas present. Did I get a present for Jeanne? I sure hope I did because she deserved one.
Here’s nearly the total sum of what I remember about Christmas 2007: I wanted to trim the pear tree that sits a mere 10 feet from our front door (the coldest time of year is the best); we had a Christmas tree only because a thoughtful aunt drove one up on Christmas Eve; I could easily wrap and touch my thumbs and pinkie fingers around Lila’s torso. That’s it. Like the Lotos-eaters Ulysses encountered, those early dreamlike days made me forget all else, half asleep in languid bliss on our little island here in Massachusetts.
Of course, newborns have no interested in being languid, no matter how much their parents wish for it. The year since has been the busiest I have ever been. That pear tree, for one, remains untrimmed (but it’s on my list!). My fingers can’t quite touch around Lila’s torso--as best as I can tell when she’s not squirming or wiggling or playing her favorite game: grabbing me by the jaw and pulling my head toward her so she can whip my eyeglasses off. Jeanne and I have, however, managed to be better organized this Christmas. As concerned parents, the safety of what Lila eats and handles is a big deal. And at Christmas especially, toys top the list.
After the widespread toy recalls of 2007, I assumed the toy industry would have straightened its act out. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The Ecology Center, a Michigan nonprofit, tested 1,500 children’s toys this year for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC and other harmful chemicals.
One in three toys were found to have medium or high levels of chemicals of concern. More than one-quarter of the toys were made with PVC, which overall is bad for the environment and often contains phthalates. Lead, which causes developmental problems in children who are exposed too often to it, was detected in one of every five toys tested.
The worst offender that I saw in the organization’s report: a Disney Hannah Montana necklace made by the Rhode Island-based company F.A.F. The Ecology Center found 406,510 parts of lead per million through its testing--that’s 677-times the amount of lead the federal government uses to trigger a lead paint recall. Of course, the necklace isn’t painted, but children still put such things in their mouths.
Maybe even more disturbing is that while the popular perception with toy problems is with items made in China, the group found that’s not necessarily the case. About 21% of toys tested from China had detectable levels of lead, while 16% of those from other countries did. One of the worst offenders, a Halloween pumpkin pin from Christmas Tree Shops, made domestically, had exceedingly high levels of both lead and arsenic.
In fact, a lot of the toys under the tree this morning will actually be illegal to sell in the United States in two months, under new Consumer Product Safety Commission rules set to go into effect. You can learn more, and look up toys, at http://www.healthytoys.org. We’ve been using the list to weed out bad items before they get within Lila’s grasp, some from manufacturers we would have trusted otherwise.
The potential dangers to babies like Lila come from more than just toys. In October, we attended a presentation at the Boston Children’s Museum by the Environmental Working Group and consumer products manufacturer Seventh Generation. The EWG presented a study it performed on the blood of 10 newborns, whose blood samples were collected by the Red Cross at birth. The EWG found 287 chemicals in the blood of these babies, including 180 that are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 that are toxic to the brain and 208 that cause birth defects. All those chemicals come from the cleaning products we use, food we eat and even the air we breathe. The ubiquity of them is remarkable considering the only food a newborn gets is from its mother in the womb, blood that is thoroughly filtered through the placenta.
The EWG has also done tests on a larger number of adults across the country and world. One of them was journalist Bill Moyers, who found he had high levels of chlorinated dioxins and furans, which are associated with cancer and immune system issues like allergies, high levels of lead and high levels of methylmercury, which are linked to birth defects and nervous system issues. A generally healthy person, Moyers likely got his exposure from vinyl products, seafood and fat from meat, plus the old lead paint and pipes in homes. I sure hope Bill’s OK--I met him once when I was in high school working at a photo shop. He was wearing a “World’s Greatest Grandad” T-shirt and was good enough to discuss Joseph Campbell briefly. The problem is, many of the chemicals present in all of us can cause complications down the line, or affect our offspring. Moyers’ information, along with profiles of many others studied, is available at http://www.bodyburden.org.
What amazed me at the EWG presentation in Boston was learning that these chemicals proliferate in our environments in part because the government doesn’t require testing be done on chemicals to determine if they are harmful to humans. When the existing chemical regulation was passed in 1976, it declared as safe 62,000 chemicals already on the market, even though little or no testing was done on the vast majority of them. In the time since, another 20,000 chemicals have come into use, also with little or no testing, according to the EWG. The EWG is promoting a proposed law called the Kid Safe Chemical Act would mandate that all chemicals be tested before they are sold and that all existing chemicals on the market be tested and proven safe, with priority given to chemicals that are commonly found in people, like you, me, Lila and Bill Moyers. The bill was introduced into Congress this May by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representatives Henry Waxman and Hilda Solis, but didn’t come to a vote.
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The Superior Investment Over Time
“Small-cap stocks will continue, in my view, to be the superior investment over time ... The markets may re-evaluate what financial metrics matter most for stock selection, but growth will always be in style.”
That’s Thomas Garrity, editor of Cabot Small-Cap Confidential, discussing the future of small-cap stocks. If you’re ready to invest earlier in companies with revolutionary new products and services, Cabot Small-Cap Confidential is right for you. These stocks can explode once word gets out, but you can get in before anyone else even knows these investments exist. For instance, take Hansen Natural, which editor Thomas E. Garrity invested in when it was selling for a mere 1.71 in early 2004. The stock rocketed up 2,338% when he sold some of his position in February 2008.
Subscriptions are strictly limited to 500, but the bear market has shaken some investors out, so we have a few spots open. Click the link below to ensure that you get a subscription today.
As the extent to which chemicals have a dubious effect on us and our environment become more known, it’s underpinning a tremendous rise in consumer interest in organic and Green lifestyle products. Seventh Generation, for example, makes nontoxic and sustainable products ranging from napkins to dish detergent. It has seen its sales rise 34% annually since 2002 to an estimated $100 million this year (the company is privately held).
And no doubt you heard of Whole Foods Market’s (WFMI) stellar rise from a small natural foods outfit in Austin, Texas, to an international grocery chain that was one of the best stocks to own in the first half of this decade. As editor of the Cabot Green Investor, I’m seeing a growing number of small, exciting companies that promise to bring great profits to those who invest early.
The market turmoil has sold many promising Green companies into to bargain-like territory, companies like Converted Organics (COIN), which is making organic soil out of out household and food production waste, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) which is pushing fair trade and organic coffee methods (and profiting handsomely off the Keurig coffee system it owns) and Lifeway Foods (LWAY), a fast growing yogurt maker founded by a Russian exile that has been heavily buying back its stock of late.
These are all stocks that Cabot Green Investor subscribers learned about this year, just some of the four dozen stocks we presented to subscribers covering industries ranging from holistic living to the boom segments of solar power, wind energy and alternative fuels. We also point out to readers that there is a difference between loving a company and buying the stock. This summer, I warned readers against investing in Whole Foods when the stock seemed cheap at 22--it has since fallen to 11. Many other readers use the subscriber-only ability to email their questions to me to learn more about the Green small-cap stocks that they’re considering or bounce investing ideas off me and our staff at Cabot.
With the new year and a new administration focused on re-invigorating the U.S. economy with Green mandates, we’re especially watching certain segments and companies that are poised to benefit from a wave of government infrastructure spending and a reorganization of existing old line industries.
What are our favorites for the New Year? That’s a gift only for Cabot Green Investor subscribers. But since it’s Christmas, let’s shake the box and peel a little corner of the wrapping back--there is one stock that is vital to everything from designing Green office buildings to cleaning up riverbeds to bringing water to the Afganis in the desert. There may even be a company that makes hybrid car batteries, one that is poised to increase sales 20-fold in 2009. Don’t overlook a company providing clean, portable energy cells to the likes of Yale and General Electric.
I promise there is something for anyone who enjoys investing and finding the next great stocks in the megatrend known as Green. Well, except maybe for Lila. She’s too busy enjoying her wooden blocks and new drum and crawling after the cat. Merry Christmas.
For Cabot Wealth Advisory
Editor’s Note: Brendan Coffey is the editor of Cabot Green Investor where he uses Cabot’s proven growth investing system to ferret out the best Green stocks in the market. As Brendan mentioned above, the new U.S. administration has promised major Green and infrastructure spending in the next few years. The stocks Brendan recommends are bound to benefit from this massive spending spree. Click the link below to get on board when these stocks are still selling at bargain prices.