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Bush Signs Consumer Product Safety Bill Into Law

Aug 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Yesterday, President George W. Bush signed a much-anticipated consumer product safety bill—H.R. 4040 as approved by Congress last month—into law.  The legislation reauthorizes the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for fiscal years 2010-2014 as well as expands its authority.  The CPSC—the government agency responsible for testing product safety and removing unsafe items from the market—estimates that about 28,000 deaths occur annually due unsafe toys and other products sold in the United States.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat-Califormia, said the 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."  The bill passed the House with an overwhelming response of 424-1, with Representative Ron Paul—Republican-Texas—the lone House member in opposition; the Senate bill passed earlier this month in an 89 to 3 vote.   There were some early concerns that President Bush may have been leaning toward a veto and now, the law signifies an unusual compromise in an election-year Congress that has long been known for partisan animosity.

Last year, lead paint was a major factor in the recall of 45 million toys, many of which were made in China.  The law now bans lead from children's toys—except in trace amounts—imposing the toughest lead standards for such products in the world and also bans three chemicals in a toxic and controversial group known as phthalates (esters of phthalic acid), widely used to make plastic products softer and more flexible and which are linked to reproductive development and endocrine problems.  Three additional phthalates are temporarily banned pending a safety review by regulators and the National Academy of Sciences. Consumer and environmental groups are thrilled, especially on its phthalate ban and, although enacted too late to affect toys sold this holiday season, supporters of the legislation’s impact will be felt for years to come.

The new law also doubles the CPSC’s budget and allows the CPSC to increase fines and other penalties for companies found to be out of compliance with the new rules.  Companies must certify they are enforcing safety standards not only in factories in the United States—and, more likely Asia—but also in toy design.  Toy manufacturers were mostly supportive of the bill and Bill Locker, counsel for the Toy Industry Association, which represents toy manufacturers, when recently describing the bill found it to be "robust and tough … it's going to greatly enhance the ability of the agency to do its job and will enhance the safety of the products that are sold in the United States," he said.  They won't just be able to certify it, Locker said. "They'll have to back those up with evidence of compliance."

The CPSC has been sharply criticized since last year after dozens of toys, many manufactured in China and sold by some of the largest names in the toy industry, were recalled for lead and other dangerous toxins; choking and strangulation hazards; and issues with small magnets, which can be swallowed and travel through the body, causing dangers when two magnets finally meet, especially in and around major organs.


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