Lead Limits, Tracking Requirements for Toys Take Effect
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will begin enforcing new regulations on the amount of lead allowed in toys and other children's products, as well as enforcing other measures intended to prevent children's exposure to dangerous goods.
As of Aug. 14, CPSC will enforce stricter limits on lead in children's products. The limit on lead paint and other coatings is now 90 parts per million (ppm).
In 2007, retailers, distributors, and manufacturers announced more than 100 children's product recalls after dangerously high levels of lead paint were discovered. The recalls encompassed millions of individual toys. They also drew the attention of Congress, which gave CPSC the authority to tighten limits on lead when it passed a sweeping reform bill that bolsters the agency's powers and resources.
CPSC will also enforce new limits on the level of lead in the content of children's products, including jewelry intended for children. The agency says, "After August 14, it will be unlawful to manufacture, import, sell, or offer for sale, a children's product that has more than 300 ppm of lead in any part (except electronics) that is accessible to children."
According to CPSC, the previous standard for both paint and content was 600 ppm.
As of Aug. 14, CPSC will also require manufacturers to mark children's products with information that will allow consumers to identify the products' origins. Tracking labels must now include manufacturer name, date, "and more detailed information on the manufacturing process such as a batch or run number."
The hope is that, in the event of a product recall, the more detailed tracking labels will allow consumers to quickly identify whether a product in their possession has been recalled. The labels may also help regulators and investigators identify products that pose a risk to children.
CPSC can also impose tougher penalties on violators of new and existing regulations. "Civil penalties increase substantially to a maximum of $100,000 per violation and up to a maximum of $15 million for a related series of violations," according to the agency. "Previously, civil penalties were a maximum of $8,000 per violation and up to a maximum of $1.825 million for a related series of violations."
Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in late July 2008, and President Bush signed the bill into law on Aug. 14 of that year. The law gave CPSC one year to prepare to enforce the lead and tracking label requirements.
It remains unclear whether CPSC has adequate resources to enforce the new requirements. According to a report released Aug. 14, CPSC continues to struggle to monitor the rising tide of consumer products imported into the U.S.
The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that although CPSC holds the authority to police imports, its ability to do so is limited by staffing shortfalls. CPSC's Import Surveillance Division, created in 2008, has only 11 employees, including nine investigators stationed at seven ports, according to the report. The staff is supported by field laboratories that test products and by analytical staff in agency headquarters. GAO notes that the U.S. has more than 300 ports of entry.
Consumer products are increasingly manufactured abroad. Most of the children's products recalled in 2007 were made in China. The rash of recalls highlighted the importance of import monitoring and enforcement.
The report also faults the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which does not share enough information with CPSC, GAO said.
CPSC's chronic underfunding and staff shortfalls are well documented. In 2008, an OMB Watch report found that CPSC's budget was cut almost 40 percent from 1974 (the agency's first year of full operation) to 2008. Staffing levels were nearly halved over the same period.
In the CPSIA, Congress attempted to increase funding for CPSC. The law authorizes $118.2 million for FY 2010, which begins Oct. 1, 2009. However, in his May budget request, President Obama suggested only $107 million for the agency. Both the House and the Senate have included the full authorized amount in their respective FY 2010 spending bills currently under consideration.
Commission Expanded to Five Members
Also as of Aug. 14, CPSC is a five-member commission. The CPSIA added two new commissionerships to the agency, effective one year after the bill was signed into law. The expansion will prevent the commission from falling dormant in the event of a vacancy, as it did in 2007 when former chairman Hal Stratton resigned and President Bush failed to nominate a replacement in time.
The Senate has confirmed both of President Obama's nominees to fill the two new spots. Robert Adler was formerly a professor at the University of North Carolina's business school. Before his career in academia, Adler served as legal counsel at both the CPSC and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Anne Northup was a U.S. congresswoman representing Kentucky's 3rd District from 1997 to 2007.