Product safety regulations debated by Congress, Consumer Product Safety Commission

March 1, 2011

There is going to be extensive discussion in Congress this year on how and how strictly to regulate consumer products for child safety.

There is going to be extensive discussion in Congress this year on how and how strictly to regulate consumer products for child safety, from cribs to toys that might carry risks such as containing lead paint.

There is widespread agreement that the 2008 legislation that reauthorized the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has reinvigorated that agency to the benefit of children, but it may also have some negative consequences for manufacturers and possibly for consumers.

The 2008 CPSC authorization was passed after a wave of toy recalls for lead paint violations in 2007.

Even though parts of that standard are not yet implemented, the rules have caused many manufacturers of toys, bedding, sports equipment, and other products to cut jobs, reduce product lines, leave the children's market completely, or shut down, said Northup.

CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum said that she wanted to work with the subcommittee on revising some of the law's provisions. She noted that all 5 CPSC commissioners issued a unanimous report last year asking for flexibility on some aspects of the law, such as cases in which lead is unlikely to be ingested by children, and calling for targeted relief for small manufacturers.

But, she told legislators, proposals to open up the entire act, especially those provisions to tighten lead restrictions, are a mistake. It's long been recognized that there is no safe level for lead.

Tenenbaum made it plain that she is concerned not only about large-scale changes in the law but also about threats to the agency's funding. She reminded the committee that by the time of the 2007 "summer of recalls," the agency had been cut from 1,000 employees in 1980 to 385. The commission is now at about 576 staff members.

Although cribs and children's sleep products were not a major focus of the House hearing, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study the same day indicating that over a 19-year period, there was an annual average of 9,561 children younger than 2 years treated in emergency departments for injuries related to cribs, playpens, and bassinets.

In December, the CPSC unanimously approved new standards for full-sized and non-full-sized cribs, as required by the 2008 legislation. CPSC said that the standards, to be effective in June, had not been updated in nearly 30 years. Among other things, the manufacture and sale of traditional drop-side cribs will be outlawed, and in about 2 years, child care facilities and places of public accommodations must have compliant cribs.