CPSC Head Steps Down

Nancy Nord, the controversial acting chair at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is finally stepping down. Nord will leave her post next week, but will continue on the CPSC’s board until 2012, when her term is up, reported the Bradenton Herald.

Until the Senate confirms a new chair, Thomas Moore, fellow commissioner, will handle the post, effective June 1, said the Bradenton Herald. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama nominated Inez Moore Tenenbaum, the former South Carolina Education Superintendent, as the next chair, said the Bradenton Herald. The CPSC is a three-member commission responsible to ensure the safety of a wide array of consumer products.

For some time, and certainly as far back as January 2008, the former Bush administration had been reviewing candidates to replace Nord. The CPSC, the nation’s chief product-safety regulator, had long been accused of not protecting consumers, and the three-member commission was without an appointed leader since former chairman Harold Stratton stepped down in 2006. Meanwhile, democrats in Congress demanded Nord resign for opposing provisions of a bill to allow the CPSC more authority to disclose information about product hazards and raise the maximum penalty for manufacturers failing to report problems.

Nord, a lawyer from South Dakota, joined the CPSC in 2005, becoming acting chair in 2006, said the Bradenton Herald. Earlier this year, Nord said she planned to stay on at the CPSC until her term ended in 2012. She did not provide an explanation for her choice to step down from the post, said the Bradenton Herald; however, she has long been criticized, most recently, for her handling of the Chinese-made drywall debacle.

Both Nord and the CPSC have come under intense criticism during her term. Critics, including members of both parties in Congress, have faulted the CPSC for failing to strictly enforce product safety laws, especially those relating to lead content in children’s toys. Over the past couple of years, lax enforcement of such laws has been highlighted by scandals involving lead-tainted toys and other defective imports from China. Some have criticized Nord and her board for being too close to the companies they regulate.

Recently, Nord and the CPSC were taken to task for the agency’s slow response to the growing Chinese drywall problem. For months now, homeowners across the country have complained that the material emits sulfur fumes that fill homes with a “rotten eggs” odor. The fumes from the drywall have also been linked to corroding metals in many of the homes, and people living with the material have reported sinus and respiratory problems. Many residents have had to leave their homes because the Chinese drywall has made them unlivable, and some builders are scrambling to gut homes and replace the drywall.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, whose state has been hardest hit by the Chinese drywall problem, has repeatedly called for Nord to step down because of the agency’s slow response to the drywall issue. In a recent statement, Nelson said he was pleased with the decision to replace Nord: “For too long consumers have been ignored by a board that’s been too cozy with industry.”

In addition to naming a new chair, the Obama administration says it plans to add two more members to the CPSC’s three-member board, and increase the commission’s budget by $107 million. In addition to Tenenbaum, Obama named Robert S. Adler as a CPSC commissioner. Adler, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and once an attorney-adviser to two commissioners at the CPSC, was elected six times to the board of directors of Consumers Union, UPI said.

While she is being stripped of her chairmanship, Nord has not been asked by the Obama administration to give up her seat as a CPSC commissioner.

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