The record-setting 448 product recalls last year - about half of them for children's products - drove the bill through the legislative process. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 passed both houses of Congress late last month with overwhelming majorities.
The legislation reauthorizes the Consumer Product Safety Commission for FYs 2010-2014 and expands the commission's role in ensuring the safety of consumer products, especially those designed for children.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said today that the new law would give parents peace of mind. "This landmark law will strengthen our ability to prevent unsafe toys from being sold, remove from the shelves more quickly products that are found to be harmful, and increase fines and penalties for violating product safety laws," Pelosi said.
Senator Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who authored the legislation said it would "keep toxic toys and other dangerous products out of our homes."
"This new law hands back the reins to the CPSC, our consumer watchdog agency, by giving it the necessary authority and resources to patrol today's global marketplace," Pryor said.
This set of blocks was recalled in January because surface paint contains excessive levels of lead. The toy was manufactured by First Learning Co. Ltd of Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy CPSC)
"We also require more responsibility from manufacturers and retailers, and stiffen the penalties if they fail to meet higher safety standards. From the factory floor to the store shelves, there are dozens more new safeguards that we've built in place to prevent unnecessary injuries and fatalities," Pryor said.
Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois sponsored the bill in the House. "Congress is united in its effort to make children's products safer by establishing a tough new ban on toxic toys and revitalizing the Consumer Product Safety Commission," said Rush on August 1. "We have taken a big step towards reestablishing consumer safety and consumer confidence."
The new law bans six different kinds of phthalates - chemicals that make plastics more flexible. These chemicals have been linked with reproductive damage. Phthalates can be found in dozens of baby and child products, including bath toys and baby lotions.
The law raises the level of funding for the commission to $136 million in FY2014 and increases the commission's fulltime staff.
The measure enhances the commission's recall authority, makes its rulemaking process more efficient, and requires manufacturers of children's products to place tracking information on all of their products.
It requires the commission to create a publicly accessible database to inform people about harms related to the use of consumer products that are reported by consumers, government agencies, health care professionals, and other nongovernmental sources.
It also authorizes state attorneys general to bring civil actions on behalf of residents to obtain injunctive relief from a violation of a consumer product safety rule.
Under the new law, the commission's inspector general must create a website to receive CPSC employee reports of waste and fraud.
CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord called the law "a victory for parents and consumers."
"New regulatory authorities and enforcement tools, many of which I asked of Congress last year, will make it easier for CPSC to find and recall unsafe products made around the world," said Nord.
"CPSC is ready to implement the law fully, fairly and in a way that bolsters the safety of children's products and increases consumer confidence," she said.
Francesca Grifo with the Union of Concerned Scientists had praise for the measure. "A stronger Inspector General and a website for CPSC employees to anonymously report their concerns, along with whistleblower protections for those who report about unsafe products, will contribute to more transparency and accountability at this agency," she said July 30 when Congress passed the bill.
"Toys will be tested for safety before they're sold, so our children aren't treated like guinea pigs," said Maureen Blackman of the nonprofit Public Citizen, an advocacy group that lobbied for improved consumer product safety.
She said now the public must follow through to ensure the law operates the way Congress intended.
"Now that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has more authority and resources to conduct recalls and test more products, we need to make sure it does its job," Blackman said. "We will preserve and expand our legislative victory by monitoring the Commission closely and participating in its proceedings."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.