The massive and numerous recalls of Chinese-made toys because of lead-based paint and other toxins naturally have parents worried, especially this time of year. There was another recall announced just yesterday, this time of toddler potty training seats tainted with lead paint. This latest recall makes 99 recalls for 2007 totaling more than 16 million products, according to OMB Watch. The so-called federal watchdog, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), is underfunded and largely toothless. Maybe this is part of the problem?
Then there is the issue of the former and acting chiefs of the CPSC, and their close relationship with industries they were responsible for regulating. Last month, The Washington Post reported that the agency’s acting chairman, Nancy Nord, and the previous chairman, Hal Stratton, had "taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children’s furniture industries and others they regulate." In May, Bush’s nominee to head the CPSC, Michael Baroody, was forced to withdraw his nomination when it became clear that he would not win confirmation in the Senate Commerce Committee because he was a senior lobbyist with the National Association of Manufacturers.
In the face of the feds’ dereliction of its duty, activist groups are jumping into the breach. On Wednesday, the Ecology Center launched a database at HealthyToys.org to address the failures of companies and the federal government to regulate toxins in toys. So far, the Ecology Center has found dangerous levels of lead in 35 percent of the products it has tested. Last month, U.S. PIRG released their Trouble in Toyland report, their annual survey of toy hazards including dangerous small magnets, choking hazards and lead-laden toys. They make the point: "It doesn’t matter whether a toy is made in China or made in Kansas. Companies have to make sure that it is safe."
There are three bills currently working their way through Congress that are aimed at addressing the crisis. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has introduced H.R. 3691, the Safe Consumer Product Act, which would reduce lead levels in paint or in the product to the level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has introduced H.R. 4040, the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act. It’s before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and is expected to pass the House. The act would be the first major reform of would be the first major overhaul of the agency since its founding in 1973. On the Senate side, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) has introduced S. 2045, the CPSC Reform Act of 2007. The Senate Commerce Committee passed the act last month. Earlier this week, 35 state attorneys general sent a letter to Congress calling for strong action.