Toy Recalls Move CPSC to Place Inspectors at US Ports

Last year’s unprecedented wave of toy recalls has led The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to change the way it deals with imported consumer products.  The CPSC announced Wednesday that it will be deploying full-time product safety inspectors at US ports to screen toys and other imports for potential safety hazards.

Initially, the agency will only have inspectors at the Port of Long Beach.  Acting CPSC chairman Nancy Nord would not give details on timeframes, schedules, and the locations for future inspections sites.  The new import surveillance division will test selected products for unsafe levels of lead, loose parts that could pose a choking risk to children, faulty wiring on electric components, and other potential hazards and will have the authority to hold shipments deemed hazardous.  Toys, fireworks, cigarette lighters, and electronics are among the targeted products.  Officials cautioned that the inspections alone are not the solution.  “It is virtually impossible to inspect ourselves out of this problem,” said Daniel Baldwin, assistant commissioner for US Customs and Border Protection.

This change will allow the newly forming unit to work with US Customs and Border Protection agents.  The CPSC has had agents checking products at ports for years on a case-by-case basis and only at the commission’s request.  Nord said $614 billion worth of products that fall under the agency’s jurisdiction came into the country last year, with 40 percent originating in China.  “This overwhelming increase of imports means that we must find new ways to fulfill our mission and protect the American people,” she said.  Millions of toys were recalled last year with 61 recalls, up over 20 recalls from the prior year.  Of those, over six million toys were recalled due to lead; the highest number ever due to product defects.  Also, other potentially dangerous toys remained in stores and were sold without warning labels of possible choking hazards several times last year.

The CPSC has been under public pressure for not acting quickly enough to eliminate hazardous products from store shelves and for being influenced by the companies it regulates.  Meanwhile, the White House has been reviewing candidates to replace acting CPSC chairman Nord who has been accused of not protecting consumers.  The three-member commission has been without an appointed leader since 2006.  Democrats in Congress demanded Nord resign for opposing provisions of a bill to allow CPSC more authority to disclose information about product hazards and raise the maximum penalty for manufacturers failing to report problems.  The commission vacancy has impacted its ability to operate efficiently in initiating mandatory recalls and approving safety regulations, which require a quorum of three.  The three-member agency has been able to legally operate with two members; extensions to the quorum have been implemented twice.

Nord recently spoke at the annual American International Toy Fair, lashing out at the toy industry and citing a lack of safety controls that led to last year’s unprecedented and highly publicized recalls.  Warning that the industry has the obligation to regulate itself Nord said, “I will not tolerate this industry…not complying with our regulations.”  The agency is now working with the Toy Industry Association to develop mandatory testing standards.

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