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Children’s product safety needs improvement

* Consumer Federation of America * Consumers Union * Kids in Danger *
* U.S. Public Interest Research Group * National Research Center for Women & Families *
* Public Citizen *

Thursday, May 15, 2008
Consumer Groups Call On Congress to Finish the Job to Improve
Toy and Children’s Product Safety

Washington DC– Consumer advocates today joined mothers pushing their children in strollers to push the House and Senate Conferees to negotiate the most consumer-protective product safety bill possible, combining the best provisions of H.R. 4040 and S. 2663. The consumer groups and parents called on the Members of Congress participating in the conference on these bills to ensure that the final bill results in a well-funded, accountable Consumer Product Safety Commission that can protect our families and repair our broken product safety net.
“Consumers’ illusion that our product safety system is working has been shattered by the many recalls of children’s toys as well as the spotlight on a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in need of more resources, authority and transparency,” stated Rachel Weintraub, Director of Product Safety and Senior Counsel for Consumer Federation of America. “We call on Members of Congress to pass the strongest bill possible to protect all consumers and especially our children from hazards posed by unsafe products,” Weintraub concluded.
“Toxic chemicals like lead and phthalates have no business in children’s toys,” said U.S. PIRG Public Health Advocate Liz Hitchcock. “We’re counting on Congress to act quickly to help America’s littlest consumers grow up safe from toxic hazards.”
“As educated parents who believed that we took all safety precautions for our children, what we learned after Danny’s death shocked us,” stated Linda Ginzel, co-founder of Kids In Danger and mother of 16 month old Danny Keysar who died ten years ago in a dangerous crib. “Still, today it continues to shock parents across the country through last year’s epidemic of lead-laced toys and deadly cribs– there is no requirement that children’s products be tested for safety before they are sold.”
In December of last year, the U.S. House of Representatives responded to public demands for greater toy safety by passing legislation to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission, ban lead in children’s products, and increase scrutiny of imported toys. In March, the Senate passed its CPSC reform proposal which, among many important provisions, creates a publicly accessible database to help consumers identify potential hazards, makes toy safety standards mandatory and bans phthalates – a dangerous developmental toxin — in children’s products.
In the last fiscal year alone, there were 473 recalls. These recalls involved toys and jewelry with excessive levels of lead, toys with dangerous magnets that can rip a child’s intestines and stomach lining when swallowed in multiples, and cribs with hardware and side-slat failures that can cause injury and even death.
Since January, CPSC has recalled nearly ten million products because they are unsafe, according to a report released today by Consumers Union. “We are well on our way to breaking last year’s record number of products recalled,” said Ami Gadhia of Consumers Union.
“We need a system that identifies and alerts consumers and parents in particular to these problems as early as possible, prevents hazardous products from entering the stream of commerce in the first place, holds manufacturers and others accountable when these unsafe products do wind up in stores and in our homes, and requires more effective recalls for their removal,” said Gadhia.
“Consumers expect the federal government to ensure effective enforcement of product safety laws, particularly when it comes to imported toys. Provisions increasing civil penalties and authorizing joint enforcement by state attorneys general are essential,” stated David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.
“We’re urging Members of Congress to insist on the phthalates ban in the final version of the bill, for the sake of our children,” said Diana Zuckerman, President of the National Research Center for Women and Children. “Scientific research indicates that exposure to phthalates may cause genital abnormalities in boys.”
H.R. 4040 and S. 2663 each contain important provisions that will significantly improve the safety of our products. Our organizations, representing millions of American consumers, urge House-Senate conferees to come together and produce a final measure that includes the strongest consumer protection provisions in each bill. Specifically, the final bill should include the following provisions:

  • Definition of Children’s Product. Because many families have more than one child sharing a toy box, it is critical that the scope of children’s products be broadly defined to include children’s products intended for grade-school children.

  • Database. The final bill should create a publicly accessible database to improve disclosure of product safety information, such as incidents associated with cribs and toys that could injure or kill babies and children without requiring further legislative action.

  • Enforcement by State Attorneys General. AGs offer additional eyes ensuring compliance with product safety laws and they need broad authority to enforce product safety laws.

  • Toy Safety Standard. Current voluntary standards for toy safety should be made mandatory (subject to upgrading by the CPSC) and toys should be certified to meet that standard before entering the marketplace.

  • Lead Provision. Lower lead levels and faster implementation are desirable to protect children from the serious health risks posed by lead exposure.

  • Phthalate Ban. We support the Senate provision eliminating phthalates in children’s products and child care articles, which will serve to significantly curb children’s routes of exposure to these potential reproductive system toxins.

  • Whistleblower Protection. A comprehensive product safety bill should include whistleblower protections because such protections are critical for effective enforcement of consumer product safety laws.

  • Civil and Criminal Penalties. We support increasing the cap on civil penalties to provide the greatest deterrent for violators of the law that will help to increase compliance with CPSC laws. We also support eliminating the “free bite of the apple” pre-notification requirement in existing law.

  • Recall Authority. CPSC should have the authority to halt distribution of a product and notify all parties transporting, selling or distributing a product to cease distribution.

  • “We lost our beautiful son to a broken children’s product safety system, said Linda Ginzel, co-founder of Kids In Danger and mother of 16 month old Danny Keysar who died ten years ago in a dangerous crib. “We need Congress to keep that from happening again. Please ensure that children are put first. We urge you to negotiate the strongest bill possible for consumers.”

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    Rachel Weintraub, CFA (202) 387-6121
    Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG (202) 546-9707
    David Arkush, PC (202) 550-0107
    Nancy Cowles, KID (312) 218-5593
    Paul Brown, NRCWF, (202) 223-4000 x103
    Jennifer Fuson, CU (202) 462-6262