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Child Product Safety: Do Current Standards Provide Enough Protection?

October 5, 2004
Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee
Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and
Consumer Protection
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representive:
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, commends Chairman Stearns and Ranking Member Schakowsky for holding a hearing entitled “Child Product Safety: Do Current Standards Provide Enough Protection?” scheduled for Wednesday October 6th, 2004.
We believe that an examination of current standards in place to protect America’s smallest and most vulnerable residents is critically important. Consumer Reports (CR) recently completed an investigation, highlighted in the November issue (attached), entitled “Hazard in Aisle 5.” The magazine article reveals that consumers are being exposed to an alarming number of dangerous products, many of which violate federal safety standards. CR’s research uncovered that potentially lethal products can be found on store shelves, including toys that could cut, choke or poison a child. Investigators visited more than a dozen stores in five states, including dollar stores, drugstores, close-out centers, and other discount stores. Potentially violative children’s products were then evaluated at the Yonkers, New York headquarters for choking hazards, age- appropriate labeling, and the presence of lead. Fully one in three (or 48) of the toys examined by CR violated mandatory or voluntary safety standards.
In the article, CR describes how diminished funding and staff size at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), as well as certain CPSC policies have left consumers vulnerable to inferior, and too-often dangerous goods. The article raises concerns about how CPSC enforcement actions, including recalls, detained shipments, and other efforts, have declined sharply in recent years. For example, investigators found one company that sold 33 types of toys and rattles that violated small parts, labeling and other standards over 8 years. This company received no CPSC penalty, only repeated letters informing it of the violations and requesting corrective action.
We believe that future deterrence requires that the CPSC assess monetary penalties to repeat violators. Further we believe that the CPSC must have sufficient resources to sufficiently patrol retail shelves and keep dangerous products out of consumers’ homes.
We urge the members of this Subcommittee to support any increased funding to the CPSC necessary to increase the staff and resources it may need to respond to the revelations in CR’s investigation. In an effort to protect children, we urge members to co-sponsor legislation, described below, that would require premarket testing of durable products for use by children under five, and that would create a mandatory system for manufacturers to collect consumer contact information in case of a recall.
If you have not already, Consumers Union urges you to support and co-sponsor:
• H.R. 2911, the “Infant and Toddler Durable Product Safety Act,” sponsored by Representative Jan Schakowsky. This legislation would better ensure the safety of infant and toddler products by requiring independent testing of certain durable goods before they are sold on the market. The legislation would require manufacturers to pre-test “durable” products likely to be used by children under five, including cradles, cribs, toddler beds, high chairs, safety gates, play yards, and strollers; and
• H.R. 1197, the “Product Safety Notification and Recall Effectiveness Act of 2003,” sponsored by Representative Jim Moran. This legislation directs the CPSC to promulgate a consumer products safety standard requiring manufacturers of juvenile products (such as toys, cribs high chairs, bath seats, playpens, strollers, and walkers), and small appliances to establish and maintain a system for providing notification of recalls to purchasers. Manufacturers would be required to improve their notification of consumers by either distributing products safety notification cards that could be returned to them by consumers, or by creating some other way of registering buyers electronically.
We look forward to working with you to ensure that parents can have confidence that the toys and other children’s products they buy can be used safely, and do not present an unreasonable risk of harm.
Janell Mayo Duncan
Legislative and Regulatory Counsel