Tag Archives: CPSC

Keeping Big Business happy at our children’s expense

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak Out california

I remember as a youngster believing that the President and the government would protect us from harmful things—like gas fumes at the pump and toys that broke off and could hurt babies and little children. Of course, I was quite young at the time, not yet at double digits, the country was much more naive and Dwight Eisenhower was president. This was obviously a long time ago!

But I took the notion seriously that government had a moral and constitutional responsibility to protect the public and keep us from harms way—whether it be from enemies to our shores, criminals threatening our personal peace and safety or just known bad things being cast upon us by those who didn’t care about our well-being.

It turns out I was very naive, and had a misplaced sense of what government, at least in times of Ike,considered to be its responsibilities. But as time has moved on, the role of government to protect us as consumers and as individuals has evolved. Particularly in the 1970’s, and somewhat ironically, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the role of the EPA, the Consumer Protection Agency and other publicly concerned entities took a front-and-center position in helping protect our nation and our natural resources. After all, it was Richard Nixon who signed the Clean Water Act (although it was pushed heavily by the democratically controlled congress). To his credit, he also oversaw the first Environmental Protection Agency, committed to protecting our environmental health.

Fast-forward to today and we see a stark contrast between a national commitment to protect the public and an adminstration which has blatantly and shamelessly pronounced that the public health is of no concern to it. That seems to be the message of this week’s extraordinary conduct of one Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The CPSC is the agency tasked with the responsibility to oversee the safety of more than 15,000 types of consumer products. It is this agency which has been under scrutiny as more and more of the thousands of products we import from China, as toys with which our children play, turn out to be laced with poison. Primarily in the form of lead materials, our youngest children are being exposed to toxic materials known to cause brain damage and other serious health and safety consequences for children in particular.

The public outcry has been predictably severe, after all, these are our children who are being knowingly exposed to dangerous substances. The question has been raised, “Where is the government in all this? Where is the agency that is supposed to protect against unsafe consumer products? Who is minding the store?”

The answer with this administration, in particular, has been that no one is minding the store. After all, the market can regulate itself and we don’t want to impose any regulation or restrictions that will interfere with a free and unregulated market. And therein lies the rub: The market has not and does not regulate itself. It only responds when it is finally CAUGHT. So millions of our children have been exposed to these dangerous materials. How many of them will suffer as a result? How many parents and loved ones will feel responsible for the consequences because the government has failed to protect them? And finally, how can this administration, that professes to want to protect America justify such neglect of its responsibilities?

The answer, sadly, is best summarized by the extraordinary response by the person who is in charge of protecting us from unsafe products. Appointed by George W. Bush  to head an agency whose work and mandate she opposes, Ms. Nord publicly opposed legislation that will strengthen her agency’s ability to do its job.

On October 30th, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill which would raise the CPSC budget, increase its staff and grant it “broad new powers to police the marketplace” on behalf of consumer safety.
The New York Times reported that Nord opposed the measure because it would “increase the maximum penalties for safety violations , make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products and protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate the law.” In other words, she opposed a bill that would help her agency do its job in holding these companies accountable and deterring these dangerous abuses in the future– this from the person responsible for making sure we are protected from these very practices. Just imagine a District Attorney opposing legislation making his/her job easier to catch and prosecute the bad guy!

This legislation was precipitated by yet another recall in October of over half a million toys imported from China. Earlier we saw millions of other toys recalled for containing dangerous levels of lead and other safety problems. As if that weren’t enough to jump on the bandwagon and call for greater oversight and accountability, Ms. Nord completely missed the point, arguing instead that the latest recall came not for safety reasons, but simply because the contents violate the law. Huh?

Have the Bush free-marketeers gone so over the top that they don’t see that the public wants protection and deserves to be protected from dangerous products, especially those that harm their CHILDREN? Apparently not. Apparently the free-marketeers are so inflexible, so intractible, so unconcerned with the well-being of the people they are poisoning that they are even willing to so publicly condemn efforts to assure greater safety and protection of our people, and our children in particular.

If there are any Americans left who think this administration cares about them more than about big business and corporate profit, this should be the final nail in that coffin. This move toward even greater deregulation, greater unaccountability and responsibility to the public is straight out of the failed conservative ideology that the people are reacting to today. Bush’s dangerous and irresponsible commitment to ignore the public’s safety, heavens, our children’s safety, for the sake of corporate free- market is yet another example of his failed priorities and the failure of this administration to act in the best interests of the public he and his appointees are supposed to serve.

For the sake of our children and our planet we must change the dialogue and bring safety and responsibility back to the process. Our children deserve it and we must demand it. When an administration is reduced to such arrogance and misguided values so as to blatantly and publicly reject the safety of its people and its children, in particular, it is time to send them packing.

It isn’t the 1950’s anymore. We aren’t naive about what is going on in the world and in the world of mulit-national commerce. And even our youngsters today know the government isn’t necessarily there to protect them. It is now our job to insist that it do so.

Fiona Ma Says to CPSC: Protect California’s Children, or We Will

In the wake of several recalls of toys containing lead, Fiona Ma is talking about enacting a law in California prohibiting lead in children's toys.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, sent a letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency responsible for regulating harmful chemicals in consumer products, demanding a speedy prohibition of toxic lead in products used by children, the most vulnerable of the population.

Why Fiona Ma's legislation is unnecessary (and why it is so necessary) on the flip . . .


The fact is that there already are state and federal laws that prohibit lead in children's toys.


42 U.S.C. section 4831(c) states:


Prohibition by Consumer Product Safety Commission in application to toys or furniture articles.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission shall take such steps and impose such conditions as may be necessary or appropriate to prohibit the application of lead-based paint to any toy or furniture article . . . .


Pursuant to the authority delegated to it by Congress, the Consumer Product Safety Commission promulgated 16 C.F.R. part 1303.4 which provides that:


The following consumer products, manufactured after February 27, 1978, unless exempted by Sec. 1303.3, are banned hazardous products * * *

(b)               Toys and other articles intended for use by children that bear “lead-containing paint.”


The laws clearly are on the books – the lead pain that was on Mattel's children's toys is clearly illegal.  The problem is that the CPSC, like most other federal watchdog agencies, has been neutered by a federal government that has been run by Republicans for too long. In short, they are asleep at the wheel.  And it is our safety that is on the line.

The CPSC does not have Chairperson who has been confirmed by the Senate.  Instead, it is being run by Acting Chairwoman Nancy Nord.  Before being appointed to the CPSC, Ms. Nord was the Director of Federal Government Relations for Eastman Kodak Company.  (That title sounds to me like a fancy name for a corporate lobbyist.)  Surely her days protecting Kodak's interests before governments abroad gave Ms. Nord a wealth of experience protecting consumers from dangerous products.  If not, I'm sure she cut her teeth tirelessly fighting for the little guy while she was at the American Corporate Counsel Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  And Ms. Nord was a step up from Bush II's first choice for CPSC Chairperson, Michael Baroody.  Mr. Baroody was the senior lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, a well group dedicated to consumer protection (Ahem!).  The public outcry was so strong that even the Bush Administration made Mr. Baroody withdraw his nomination.  

Putting aside the Chairwoman's personal biases, she is one of the two people who make decisions at the CPSC.  The CPSC is supposed to have three commissioners, but since July 2006, it has had only two of the three Commissioners.  This means that Congress has had to pass laws to allow the Commission to meet its quorum requirements necessary to conduct business.

Congress has repeatedly slashed the budget for the CPSC.  When Ronald Reagan stepped into the White House in 1980, the CPSC has 800 employees.  Over the last 27 years, that number has shrunk by half.  There now are fewer than 400 employees at the CPSC.  “Small government” is so good!  CPSC Commissioner Thomas Moore put it best:

Two years of significant staffing cuts and other resource reductions have limited the Commission’s ability to carry out its mission and have left the agency at a point where it is now doing only what is absolutely necessary for it to do and little else. Staff morale is very low. Employees see the agency being gradually but continually downsized; managers cannot fill vacant positions and employees either take on additional jobs as their colleagues leave or see projects shelved for lack of funding. Many employees at the agency are looking for other jobs because they have no confidence the agency will continue to exist (or will exist in any meaningful form) for many more years. The
clear signal from the administration is that consumer protection is just not that important. The Commission can either continue to decline in staff, resources and stature to the point where it is no longer an effective force in consumer protection or, with the support of Congress, it can regain the important place in American society that it was originally designed to have.


California also has laws on the books.  California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (known as “Proposition 65”), provides:


No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual, except as provided in Section 25249.10.


Proposition 65 establishes a procedure by which the State is to develop a list of chemicals “known to the State to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 25249.8.)  Lead was placed in the Governor's list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause reproductive toxicity on February  27, 1987.  It is specifically identified under three subcategories: “developmental reproductive toxicity,” which means harm to the developing fetus, “female reproductive toxicity,” which means harm to the female reproductive system, and “male reproductive toxicity,” which means harm to the male reproductive system. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 22, § 12000, subd. (c).)  “Lead and lead compounds” were placed in the Governor's list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer on October 1, 1992. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 22, § 12000, subd. (b).)

California's Attorney General has many means to enforce Proposition 65, including injunctions under California Business and Professions Code section 17200, et seq.


I applaud Fiona Ma's effort to take on this dysfunctional agency and tell the CPSC that if it does not protect the safety of Californians,  California will.  But it's not necessarily another law that we need.  While Congress should strengthen many consumer laws, what we really need is for Congress to: (1) restore funding for the CPSC to its pre-Reagan-era levels, and (2) vote to not confirm Bush's crony and industry's whore, Nancy Nord, as Chairwoman of the CPSC, but instead insist upon a qualified person with a track record of experience protecting consumers.

And Jerry Brown should use Proposition 65 along with the other weapons he has in his arsenal to do the job that the CPSC is not doing and protect Californians, especially our children, from unsafe products containing lead.