Posted by: John Tozzi on January 13, 2009
I found this October 2007 article by the Times’ Stephen Labaton while researching the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. (That’s the law that small producers of children’s goods say threatens to put them out of business because of costly lead testing requirements, even on products cotton clothes and other natural materials at low risk of having lead.)
The story is about how Nancy Nord, acting chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, asked Congress to oppose a bill that would strengthen her agency after product recalls in 2007 made headlines. Nord “asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.”
But further down there’s this line: “She was critical, for instance, of a provision to ban lead from all toys, saying it was not practical.” That seems to be the consensus now from makers of toys and other children’s products.
Also, to put some context around regulators’ ability to enforce the law, Labaton writes:
The agency has suffered from a steady decline in its budget and staffing in recent years. Its staff numbers about 420, about half its size in the 1980s. It has only one full-time employee to test toys. And 15 inspectors are assigned to police all imports of consumer products under the agency’s supervision, a marketplace that last year was valued at $614 billion.
(Emphasis mine.) I haven’t gotten a hold of the CPSC yet, so I can’t confirm what staffing levels are like now, or whether they still only have one person testing toys. But it certainly seems like that person is going to be pretty busy…
Can anyone point me to thoughtful policy proposals of a better way to keep kids’ products safe without putting an undue burden on small business owners?
(Also, thanks for all the thoughtful emails and comments below.)