Consumer Product Safety Reform Clears Congress
Congress has approved a bill that will revamp the nation's consumer product safety net. The legislation reforms the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to enable the agency to better enforce safety standards in a market dominated by cheap imports and requires new standards for dangerous substances like lead and phthalates.
After months of fits and starts, a conference committee of House and Senate leaders approved a package on July 28, bringing negotiations on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (H.R. 4040) to a close. The final version of the bill passed the House on July 30 in a 424-1 vote. The bill passed the Senate the next day in an 89-3 vote.
The act will infuse CPSC with much-needed resources. A recent OMB Watch report found that resource shortfalls have left the agency hobbled and unable to police a growing marketplace flooded with imported goods like toys and all-terrain vehicles. The act will raise CPSC's budget to $136 million by FY 2014, nearly a 75 percent increase over current levels. However, the increases must still be approved in the spending bills Congress takes up every fall.
Despite a significant increase in 2008 to $80 million, CPSC's budget is still lower than it was in the early 1980s. Budget shortfalls have translated into staffing cuts. CPSC's staff is 420, according to President Bush's most recent budget request — less than half of what it was in 1980. The act will require CPSC to increase its staff size to at least 500 by FY 2014.
One part of the bill bans certain phthalates, a class of chemicals found in a variety of plastic products, in children's toys. The provision bans three types of phthalates outright. Scientists have linked phthalates to reproductive and developmental abnormalities in fetuses and infants.
Three other phthalates would be banned temporarily pending further study. The phthalate provision in H.R. 4040 represents a dramatic shift in the federal government's approach toward regulating toxic substances. Usually, chemicals enter and stay on the market without regulation and are only pulled if scientists prove a definitive health risk. In this case, the banned substances will only be allowed back on the market if their safety is proven.
In a statement, OMB Watch Executive Director Gary Bass said, "The bill turns our usual system of chemical regulation on its head by requiring proof of safety, not proof of harm, an approach we strongly support."
The Act will also ban lead in children's products to trace amounts. Although consumers and lawmakers have known for years about lead's damaging effects on neurological development, CPSC does not limit the lead content of children's products, only paint and coatings.
The spate of recalls for lead-contaminated toys and children's jewelry in 2007 highlighted problems with both lead in paint and lead in other product components. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will set a general ban on lead in children's products by requiring CPSC set a standard of 0.01 percent within three years. The act will also tighten the federal standard on lead paint to 0.009 percent from 0.06 percent.
Although the White House has said it disagrees with aspects of the bill, spokesperson Dana Perino indicated President Bush will sign the bill into law. "We still have a few concerns, but not enough that would keep us from signing the bill," Perino said at a July 31 press briefing. "So the President will sign [the bill] as soon as [Congress] can get it to us."
Changes Made by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act