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Mattel Toy Recall Causes CPSC to Face Senate Scrutiny

Aug 29, 2007 | Parker, Waichman, LLP This month’s Mattel Toy Recall was unsettling news for American consumers, as it became apparent that thousands of children were exposed to the toxic lead paint and dangerous magnets used in the recalled Mattel toys.  The Mattel toy recall has sparked consumers and even the Senate to take a closer look at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and whether or not the resources needed to prevent these dangerous products from hitting the shelves are available to the safety group.   Today, a Senate committee will attempt to answer that question at a hearing to investigate the recent Mattel recall scandals.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government affairs will be hearing from officials at the CPSC and other consumer advocates about what more should be done to insure that children’s toys and clothing are safe from hazards.  This month, Mattel issued two separate recalls for millions of toys that contained hazardous magnets and lead paint.  But Mattel was far from the only company to issue toy recalls this year.  Last week, children’s jewelry and Spongebob Squarepants notebooks and journals were recalled for a lead paint hazard.  And earlier this year, the RC2 Company recalled millions of Thomas the Tank Engine toy trains for the same reason.  All of the recalled toys were imported from China.

The committee is expected to take a hard look at the CPSC to see if it has enough authority, budget and staff to effectively do its job.  The CPSC is an independent government agency that is charged with overseeing product safety.  But as the number of both imported and domestically-produced goods has exploded, the CPSC has seen both its staff and budget shrink.   In the last two decades, the CPSC staff has dwindled from 900 to 400, and its budget stands at only $62 million annually.  Only 15 CPSC inspectors monitor imports at US ports, where millions of toys enter the country.   What’s more, the CPSC has fewer than 100 inspectors nationwide to monitor store shelves for defective items.  And because it has little enforcement power, the CPSC has to rely on profit-driven corporations to police themselves.  Surprisingly, it is usually manufacturers like Mattel that inform the CPSC of the need for a recall, not the other way around. And though the CPSC can impose fines on companies who willfully unleash defective products on American consumers, those fines are capped at under $2 million – pocket change for corporations that rack up millions of dollars in sales each day.

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking Republican on the committee, said in a statement that the toy recalls suggest that not enough is being done to make sure that items are safe before they reach stores.  “We will examine whether new legislation is needed to protect children from hazardous toys and clothing,” said Collins.  The Senator said that committee could end up recommending tougher laws on standards and testing for these products.  With only the CPSC standing between American children and dangerous toys, many consumer advocates are hoping that the

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