Please don’t kill our product safety, consumer groups say

May 13, 2011

It has been but a few months since the U.S. launched a database that catalogs safety problems reported by consumers. That repository of information along with third party testing of certain children’s products were created under the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which has been credited with improving the safety of imported toys and other goods.

Advocates who hailed the law as an enormous stride in protecting American consumers are now lobbying hard to try to save key provisions from being hacked off in Congress. The House Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday voted along party lines to limit who can add information to that database, alter some of the restrictions on lead in children’s products, add certain exemptions to testing and allow childcare centers to continue to use products that are no longer considered safe.

“By allowing existing cribs, no matter what safety standards they meet, to remain in child care facilities, the drafters of this amendment do a disservice to the millions of American families who rely on safe child care,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of the advocacy group Kids in Danger*.

Businesses large and small have bristled at some of the requirements of the law as being overly burdensome and having been written in a vacuum without consideration for the way the world really works. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is charged with policing the law, has stayed enforcement of certain provisions while issues over its implementation were being worked on.

“We are disappointed that the majority chose to weaken this bipartisan bill rather than find consensus solutions to implementation problems,” Cowles said.

It was an unfortunate coincidence, but the vote came on the 13th anniversary of the death of Danny Keysar, for whom a section of the law — “Danny Keysar Child Product Notification Act” — was named. Danny died after being trapped in a portable crib in a home daycare.  The crib had been recalled, but neither the daycare operator nor an inspector were aware of the recall or that other children had died in the same manner because of a design defect.

Although the safety law was signed by then President George W. Bush, advocates have been bracing themselves for its unraveling and have been trying to hang on to key provisions including the testing requirements and the database.

“While CPSIA has many virtues, there are some unintended consequences of the law as well,”  Subcommittee Chairman Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “Our common sense reforms will help to make a good law even better, saving thousands of American jobs in the process and providing our children with the important protections they need. This was a careful balancing act, but even the Consumer Product Safety Commission has recognized the problems with CPSIA and requested greater flexibility in implementing the new law.”

Consumer groups say the changes in the proposed amendment are not just tweaks, but major reversals of course.

“We oppose this bill because it swings the pendulum too far back, indications going into the mark up were that it was going to be party line,” said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the Consumer Federation of America. “So we weren’t surprised, but are discouraged.”

The CPSIA was passed following an unprecedented series of recalls of children’s products, including unsafe cribs and toys tainted with lead.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics has profound concerns about the legislation currently being considered by the subcommittee to scale back the child health protections contained in the CPSIA,” said academy president, O. Marion Burton. “For nearly 40 years, our nation has been striving to remove lead from children’s environments because we recognize its devastating impact on child health. Congress should not allow more lead in toys and other products specifically designed for children.”

(*Disclosure: The author is being honored by Kids in Danger for his work on child product safety issues.)

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