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Consumer groups call for reform of the CPSC

Consumers Union * Consumer Federation of American * Kids in Danger
Union of Concerned Scientists * U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Monday, October 29, 2007
Toys and Products Should be Safer: CPSC Needs Reform;
Groups Urge Senate Committee to Pass CPSC Reform Act of 2007 without weakening amendments

Washington, DC—Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Kids in Danger, Union of Concerned Scientists and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group urge the Senate Commerce Committee to pass the CPSC Reform Act of 2007, S. 2045, legislation that gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of over 15,000 products, greater authority and resources to protect the public from unsafe products. The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to vote on the legislation tomorrow.
The death rate associated with the products under CPSC’s jurisdiction continues at an alarming rate of more than 27,000 per year. According the agency’s own data, deaths, injuries, and property damage cost the nation more than $700 billion annually. Recalls have skyrocketed this year, hitting a record 472 recalls during fiscal year 2007. This includes the millions of toys manufactured in China recalled this summer because of lead paint and other hazards, despite the fact that lead paint was banned on toys in the United States thirty years ago.
“For years the CPSC has been operating much like a toothless tiger, with no bite,” said Donald Mays, Senior Director of Product Safety Planning and Technical Administration for Consumers Union. “With this being a record year for recalls, it is disappointing that the agency’s leadership has recently argued against provisions in this bill that would help the Commission keep unsafe products off of store shelves and out of our homes.”
“The CPSC Reform Act is a comprehensive bill that takes great strides in providing more resources to CPSC, strengthening its statutes and closing gaping holes in current law,” stated Rachel Weintraub, Director of Product Safety with Consumer Federation of America.
“For too long, CPSC’s been the little agency that couldn’t,” said Ed Mierzwinski U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director. “It’s time to give it the tools and resources it needs to protect all Americans, especially children, from dangerous imports and other hazards.”
“The CPSC needs to have meaningful laws on the books and the enforcement tools to ensure compliance to adequately protect consumers from hazards posed by consumer products,” added Mierzwinski.
The groups have been calling for an infusion of funding and greater oversight authority to bolster the CPSC’s ability to oversee the safety of all products whether imported into the U.S. or manufactured domestically.
The CPSC Reform Act of 2007, introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and co-sponsored by Senators Brown, Durbin, Klobuchar and Bill Nelson would require some children’s products, including toys to be tested by independent labs and to be certified to meet safety standards, make it illegal to sell a recalled products, improve CPSC’s ability to disclose safety information to the public, and raise the cap on the agency’s penalties from $1.83 million to $100 million. It also includes provisions giving State Attorneys General the ability to enforce CPSC regulations and includes protections for individuals in companies and safety agencies who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
“Whistleblower protections for agency and private sector employees, and a stronger mandate for the CPSC Inspector General, will strengthen this agency,” said Dr. Francesca Grifo, Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Scientific Integrity Program. “CPSC staff must have the freedom to do their jobs and warn about unsafe products without fear of intimidation.”
CPSC began operating in 1974 with a staff of nearly 800 and a budget of $34.7 million—the equivalent of $125 million in today’s dollars. Over the past 30 years, the CPSC’s staff has fallen to around 400 employees with a budget of $63.25 million –roughly half of the level of funding thirty years ago when taking into account inflation.
“There’s a gaping hole in our country’s safety net,” added Nancy Cowles, Executive Director, Kids in Danger. “We need to reform the CPSC and hold manufactures, importers, and retailers accountable for hazardous products in the marketplace. We need to restore consumer confidence in the safety of products they bring into their homes.”
The groups acknowledged and applauded the efforts of Senators Inouye Pryor, Bill Nelson, Klobuchar, Boxer, McCaskill, Dorgan, Kerry, Snowe and Cantwell for working to strengthen S. 2045.
The groups urged Committee members to vote for strengthening amendments, while opposing any weakening or extraneous amendments that would undermine safety, including reducing the cap on criminal penalties.
For the latest information on product recalls and what consumers can do to help, see www.NotInMycart.org, a website from Consumers Union to help educate the public on unsafe products.
For a copy of the letter, click here.
Jennifer Fuson