Stratton pursues international agenda; signs agreement with government of China
Chairman Hal Stratton became the first chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to visit China. In March, he went to Beijing to discuss a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding an agreement for better consumer protection in both the U.S. and China. (1)
On April 21, Stratton formally signed the MOU with Chinese Minister Li Changjiang at a ceremony at the Department of Commerce.
“The signing of this agreement with the government of the People’s Republic of China will facilitate a cooperative relationship, one in which we hope to work together to reduce deaths and injuries to children and consumers both in the United States and in China,” Stratton said.
The agreement will facilitate the exchange of technical and regulatory information, and includes the training of Chinese laboratory and inspection personnel.
Stratton said the agreement’s goal is to educate Chinese officials, manufacturers and importers about compliance with U.S. safety standards, both mandatory and voluntary.
Stratton will return to China in June to attend the International Organization of Standardization conference on toy safety standards and to continue meetings with Chinese officials.
In the past, Stratton has traveled to Mexico and to Central America on similar safety missions. Stratton commented to the Monitor:
“In an era of vast expansion of international trade, it is critical that the Consumer Product Safety Commission work closely with other nations and governing bodies to cooperate on key product safety standards and regulations. To that end, I will be traveling to China, Costa Rica, Barcelona, Brussels and possibly London this year.”
One of Stratton’s top aides, Joe Mohorovic, has been working the international beat for CPSC for some time. Recently, Mohorovic was named the Director of the Office of International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs.
Stratton told the Monitor:
“Joe will help the agency establish a more comprehensive and coordinated approach in addressing the multi-lateral trade agreements that drive our global economy.”
CPSC Teams with Safe Kids, Danny Foundation, and Association of Resale and Thrift Shops to Launch National Resale Roundup
This month CPSC focused on “Resale Roundup 2004,” a team effort to help prevent the sale of hazardous products in thrift shops or at yard sales.
CPSC Chairman Stratton said the effort would focus on helping identify previously recalled or banned products from thrift shops or consignment store shelves. It will also help consumers avoid purchasing such products at yard sales or second-hand stores.
CPSC is cooperating with the National Safe Kids Campaign (Safe Kids), the Danny Foundation, and the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTS) on the project.
Products that have caused problems recently are old cribs that do not meet current regulations, and old cedar chests that do not have a mechanism to prevent suffocation of children.
CPSC will help officials from NARTS and Safe Kids host seminars to educate thrift store staff about dangerous recalled products that could find their way onto secondhand store shelves.
Consumers can contact CPSC at (800) 638-2772 or visit www.cpsc.gov to get more information about the resale project. A new publication called “Dangerous and Recalled Products Reference Guide” can be ordered free or downloaded directly from the Internet.
Chairman Stratton said he believes the program is important since, in spite of recall notices and public warnings, many dangerous products with the potential to harm children are still in homes around the country.
Neighborhood Safety Network Spreads CPSC Safety Data
Another new project initiated by Stratton recently is the Neighborhood Safety Network. Because CPSC knows that many American consumers fail to hear about recalls and other safety messages, this new project enlists the cooperation of community groups that can help distribute posters, new publications, recall announcements, and other safety information to consumers who may have missed newspaper or broadcast announcements by CPSC.
Groups that wish to participate can sign up by going to CPSC’s website, www.cpsc.gov/nsn.html.
Agency Plans Regional Meetings on Child Drownings
As reported in the last issue of CPSC Monitor, the Commission has set three new strategic goals for the agency in 2004, one of them is reducing the number of childhood drownings. Drowning is still one the leading causes of accidental death for children under 5.
The first meeting will be held on June 21st in Tampa, Florida at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. A similar meeting will be held in Phoenix, Arizona several weeks later.
The Commission will invite consumers, public officials and industry to attend meetings to obtain information on the problem and develop recommendations on how to address it. One new initiative in 2004 is the development of engineering parameters that can help find ways to keep young children from gaining access to backyard pools.
More on Yo Yo Waterballs
An inexpensive imported toy, the Yo Yo Waterball, has been causing headaches for CPSC and its staff in recent weeks. (The Monitor first reported this story in its Sept.-Oct. 2003 issue.)
The toy is a liquid-filled ball attached to a stretchy cord with a finger loop at the end. The child puts a finger in the loop and can swing the ball in play. The toys sell for between $1 and $5.
In September 2003, CPSC issued a news release announcing the results of its investigation of the toy, which some allege has a potential risk of strangulation. The agency said at that time that although there is a low risk, and that it believes parents should exercise caution in allowing children to use the toy, it does not believe the waterhall toy meets the congressionally mandated standard for product recall.
But Lisa Lipin, the mother of a then 5-year-old boy who accidentally got the stretchy string from the waterball wrapped around his neck, has taken up the cause of ridding store shelves of the toy.
Ms. Lipin said the agency now has 345 reports of possible injuries related to the toy compared to 186 reports in September 2003. CPSC says some 11 to 15 million of the toys have been distributed in the U.S. over the past year. At that rate of(potential) injury, the risk would be infinitesimal.
Lipin, who is from the Chicago area, has an ally in her Congresswoman, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) who has written to CPSC in an effort to have the toy recalled or banned.
On Wednesday, April 28, Lipin was scheduled to testify before a committee of the Illinois Senate on her complaints about the waterball. She told the Monitor she has contacted 50 parents of children whose encounters with the toy were reported to CPSC. She has also been in frequent contact with CPSC staff members Ken Giles (Public Affairs), March Schoem (Compliance), and Ann DeTemple (Injury Clearinghouse.)
Lipin said she does not plan to file a petition, since she feels CPSC should act without that stimulus.
Lipin points to the fact that the waterballs are banned in France, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Australia, Brazil and Canada. The New York State Consumer Protection Board has issued two warnings that call the Yo Yo Waterball a serious hazard. New Jersey issued a similar warning. The New York Public Interest Research Group (NY PIRG) has called on CPSC to reconsider the decision not to recall the toy, and ask manufacturers to stop selling it until an appropriate warning label can be added to the product. (2)
Lipin has been focusing her efforts currently on getting commitments from retailers to remove the toys from their shelves. Some retailers have already taken action, including Toys R Us, Walgreens and Saks. Lipin recently got such a commitment from 7-11 Stores corporate headquarters, promising to notify franchisees with the recommendation to remove the product. (3)
The Illinois mother has also complained that she has not yet had a reply to her letter of March 9 to CPSC Chairman Stratton, although she has been assured that he is working on one.
CPSC stands by its news release of September 24, 2003, reiterating that it does not have the statutory authority to force a recall or a ban of the product, given its staff’s assessment of the low risk of injury presented. (4)
Agency spokesman Eric Criss, CPSC Director of Public Affairs, said, “Chairman Stratton’s office is in the process of responding to Ms. Lipin. Moreover, Ms. Lipin has received multiple responses about Yo Yo Waterballs from many CPSC staffers, including Ann DeTemple, Director of the Injury Clearinghouse. Ms. DeTemple regularly updates Ms. Lipin on the number of consumer complaints received. Marc Schoem in Compliance and Ken Giles in Public Affairs have also had numerous exchanges of email and phone conversations to explain the criteria for recall and to explain procedures for ‘petitioning’ CPSC. CPSC continues to welcome more data from Ms. Lipin and to discuss the Yo Yo Waterball with people who have questions.”
Agency insiders have remarked that if the CPSC’s compliance staff thought it could reasonably expect to win a recall case against the importers and distributors of waterballs, it would try. Most agree that there is little likelihood of success in such a case, given the relatively low risk of injury and the high rate of exposure.
CPSC to Review Existing Standards
Comments are coming in from industry on a new Pilot Regulatory Review Project, announced by CPSC in January.
The project seeks systematically to review current regulations to assure consistency and determine whether they can be streamlined.
In the pilot phase of the project, four regulations are being evaluated. The first is the safety standard for walk-behind mowers, the second is the standard for electrically operated toys, and the third is the standard for the flammability of vinyl plastic film. The fourth is an examination of child-resistant requirements for aspirin and methyl salicylate.
The President’s Office of Management and Budget Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) stimulated the regulatory review project. This OMB program seeks to provide a consistent approach to rating programs throughout the government.
The agency said that it might apply the results of this pilot project to a review process for the rest of its “substantive” regulations. Such a review could encompass 19 regulations under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), 42 rules under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), 7 more rules under the FHSA and 31 rules under the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA). A rule under the Refrigerator Safety Act could also be reviewed.
ANSI (American National Standards Institute), a voluntary standards group responded in February to the Pilot Project by commenting on the standard for walk-behind power mowers.
Gary M. Bell, Chairman of the ANSI Accredited Standards Committee Z-535 on Safety Signs and Colors, commented that the presently required warning label should be redesigned to meet the criteria in the updated ANSI Z-535.4–2002 standard. Bell said the standard was developed with the principle that “a consistent visual layout for product safety signs and labels helps facilitate the recognition and understanding of the potential hazards being addressed.” Bell encouraged CPSC to adopt the ANSI standard and use it to upgrade regulations that were promulgated before its publication. (5)
Gary Klein, Senior Vice President for Government, Legal and Regulatory Affairs of the Toy Industry Association (TIA), commented on major recommended changes to standards affecting requirements for Electrically Operated Toys and other Electrically Operated Articles Intended for Use by Children. (6)
Klein addressed the situation in which there are new products on the market that interface with computers, televisions, audio equipment and display panels. His comments also addressed inconsistencies with the new ASTM standard in letter-size requirements for warning labels for such articles.
A counsel to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) also commented on the walk-behind power mower standard, pointing out that the ANSI standard covering walk-behind mowers includes a broader scope of safety requirements than does the CPSC standard. OPEI’s counsel points out that the ANSI standard for walk-behind mowers has been revised twelve times since its original publication in 1960. (7)
The comments of Bell, Klein and OPEI’s counsel underscore the drawbacks of mandatory rules that remain static while the market produces hundreds of new varieties of products annually. As the Monitor has said before, that is why consumers are infinitely better off with the application of voluntary, consensus standards that are updated regularly. At least CPSC is recognizing this flaw and attempting to correct it.
ASTM Asks CPSC to Terminate NPR on Baby Bath Seats
As Monitor readers will recall, Commissioners voted last year to promulgate a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) for safety standards for baby bath seats, with the notice published in the Federal Register Dec. 29, 2003.
The baby bath seat issue was a divisive one for the Commission during the tenure of CPSC Chairman Ann Brown, and was seized upon by Democratic members of the Senate in efforts to derail the President’s nomination of Commissioner Mary Gall for CPSC Chairman in 2001.
The controversy had some consumer groups demanding a ban of the seats, as opposed to at least two Commissioners who did not find that the product in question met the statutory definition of a substantial product hazard. Instead, both agency staff and Commissioners believed inattentive caregivers were the main cause of bath seat fatalities.
However, following further staff study early last year, the Commission voted to issue the NPR with the intent of producing a mandatory rule that would address some problems with the product that might contribute to injuries or deaths. They included tip-over, entrapment, and babies “coming-out” of the product. Staff recommended proposing new requirements in a mandatory rule. They include, a stability performance requirement, a leg opening performance requirement, and a labeling requirement. (8)
Meanwhile, ASTM, the standards setting organization that oversees the voluntary standard for bath seats, continued to work on revisions to the existing standard, F-1967-03.
According to a letter to CPSC from Paul Ware, Chairman of the ASTM F-15.20 Subcommittee on Bath Seats, the three major proposals in the NPR will have been implemented in the ASTM standard, and become effective by the end of the year. (9)
Basing his recommendation on the upgrading of the voluntary standard, Ware recommended that the Commission terminate the rulemaking process. CPSC is prohibited from regulating when there is an adequate voluntary standard in effect.
Other commenters, however, took an opposite view. They included Rachel Weintraub, Assistant General Counsel of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Alan Korn, Director of Public Policy of Safe Kids, Nancy Cowles, Executive Director of Kids in Danger, and officials of Consumers Union.
These groups reiterated their past support for a total ban on the product. Failing that, however, they supported the mandatory rule with additional requirements. With most of CPSC staff’s concerns addressed by the voluntary standard, Commissioners will have a difficult time making the case that the product needs to be regulated by a federal rule.
CPSC Staff Recommends Deferral of Bunk Bed Corner Post Petition
The Danny Foundation petitioned CPSC in September 2002 to regulate bunk bed corner posts and finials. The petition urges the Commission to issue a mandatory standard banning finials or corner posts on bunk beds. (10)
A recently released CPSC staff briefing memorandum states that the staff is aware of 47 hanging incidents involving bunk beds, with 39 fatalities and 8 injuries from January 1990 through December 2002. Children involved were from 11 months old to 16 years old. Four of those deaths were noted to be associated with bunk bed corner posts extensions or finials. In most cases, the incidents involved a child’s clothing, accessory or bedding catching on the bunk bed or a child becoming strangled in an item attached to the bunk bed.
The current CPSC regulation addresses hanging by entrapment, but neither it nor the ASTM voluntary standard addresses the height of the corner post extensions and finials or other “catch points.”
The ASTM standard subcommittee for bunk beds is working to develop a standard for bunk bed corner post extensions and other catch points. Draft warning label language to address hanging hazards was expected to be completed by December 2003; however a ballot on that issue is expected this month.
CPSC staff told Commissioners that it recommends a deferral of the vote on the Danny Foundation petition. During the deferral time, staff would seek more information about incidents and work with the voluntary standard committee on developing means to address the alleged hazards. Some observers wonder if the agency’s protracted effort to replace the existing voluntary standard with a mandatory one was a step backwards for safety, given the difficulty of amending the federal rule, and the ease of amending the voluntary one.
Agency Will Convene Meeting on Portable Generators
Between 1990 and 2002, CPSC received reports of 179 carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning deaths associated with portable electric generators.
Adults older than 25 made up the largest portion of those deaths. (11)
CPSC will conduct a forum on May 20, at its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, on the hazards of portable generators.
Use of portable electric generators by consumers has increased over the past few years as a means of providing electricity during temporary power outages after a storm or power to a temporary location.
Many CO-related deaths occurred when the generators were placed in the basement or crawl space of a home. Sometimes, the generator was reported being inside the house. Generators have also caused deaths when placed in garages or carports.
CO gas is tasteless and odorless. CPSC recommends that you never use a generator indoors, even in garages, basements, crawl spaces and other partially enclosed areas. Opening doors and windows or using fans does not overcome the CO gas problem
CPSC also recommends the use of battery-operated CO alarms in the homes.
For more information, visit the agency’s website, www.cpsc.gov. To register for the May 20 forum, contact Janet Buyer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 301-504-7542.
(1) News from CPSC, “CPSC Signs Cooperative Agreement with Chinese Government to Improve Safety of U.S. Imports,” Office of Information and Public Affairs, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, April 21, 2004.
(2) From various news reports.
(3) E-mail from Tom Gerrity of 7-11 to Lisa Lipin, April 25, 2004.
(4) News from CPSC Office of Information and Public Affairs, “CPSC Announces Results of Investigation of Yo Yo Water Ball Toys,” Sept. 24, 2003.
(5) Bell, Gary, Chairman, ANSI ASX Z 535 Committee, letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Office of the Secretary, February 10, 2004.
(6) Klein, Gary, Senior VP, Government, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Toy Industry Association, letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Office of the Secretary.
(7) Guerry, William and Grymes, Christie, Counsel to the Outdoor Power Institute, Collier Shannon Scott, Washington D.C, in a letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Office of the Secretary, March 29, 2004
(8) Briefing Package on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Baby Bath Seats, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, D. C. May 8, 2003.
(9) Ware, Paul, Chairman, ASTM F15.20 Subcommittee on Bath Seats, letter to CPSC Commissioners, May 9, 2004 on baby bath seats.
(10) Briefing Memorandum for Petition CP 03-1/HP 03-1, from Jacqueline Elder, Assistant Executive Director, Office of Hazard Identification and Reduction, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, April 13, 2004.
(11) “Portable Generators,” an article from the Consumer Product Safety Review, Spring, 2004, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
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