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CPSC releases draft plan for online product database.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. You may know it as the well-intentioned but significantly flawed law that catapulted through Congress after numerous lead-tainted Chinese products were recalled from the market in 2007. Initially, it was the bill's indiscriminate and costly lead and phthalate testing requirements for children's products that gave U.S. companies heartburn. More recently, a looming, CPSIA-mandated online product safety database is causing distress throughout the consumer products sector.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission May 24 released its proposed framework for the database, currently dubbed SaferProducts.gov, and says it intends to launch in March 2011. INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, joined some 40 other industry groups in submitting comments to the CPSC expressing significant reservations about its plans and a potential to wreak havoc on the reputations and survival of reputable companies whose products are safe. This article will review some of the proposal's key features and some very real concerns.

CPSC Database Proposal

As it turns out, the agency already does maintain an extensive database of product complaints which it accepts from consumers, government agencies, healthcare and child care professionals and public safety agencies, which it uses to conduct studies and investigations. That database, however, is not immediately available to the general public and typically requires a Freedom of Information Act request to access its contents. Consumer advocates argue that these barriers limit the public's right to know about the products they're using and hinder removing faulty ones from market.

To overcome this, Section 212 of the CPSIA requires a centralized, searchable online database that compiles submissions. These "reports of harm" detail consumer product incidents that involve injuries, illness, death or risk of any of these occurring.

To be published, these reports would be required to identify the product and manufacturer in question; detail the harm caused or risked by the product; identify the filer's contact information, (although it wouldn't be revealed, and include an affirmative verification that the information in the report is true and accurate to the best of the submitter's knowledge, information and belief. Just about anyone could file these reports, according to the May proposal, including family and friends of impacted consumers as well as lawyers, non-governmental organizations, trade associations, consumer advocacy groups, and more.

Once a report has been submitted, CPSC would be required to notify the manufacturer within five days, and the company would have 10 business days from that to respond publicly with comments.

INDA and the other groups raised several red flags in July 23 comments for the record. Among them, the coalition contends, the commission draft defines far too broadly those eligible to submit complaints and allows those who are potentially self-serving (e.g. plaintiff's lawyers, interest groups, etc.) to weigh-in. Some of these filers might attempt to "seed the database," the coalition argues," with inaccurate or misleading information to damage a particular manufacturer or private labeler or to provide support to a lawsuit or other efforts." This would damage the overall integrity of the database.

Meanwhile, others in industry say 10 business days is not enough time for manufacturers to thoroughly investigate and respond, particularly since delivery may sometimes be delayed by a variety of normal reasons including travel, illness, personnel changes, etc. In such cases, inaccurate and damaging information would be posted for the public to see simply because there wasn't enough time to shoot it down.

Meanwhile, some predict a public relations "Catch-22." A non-response is the toxic equivalent of a "no comment." An inadvertently incomplete response, on the other hand, could distort the company's purpose and end up as fodder for a negative PR campaign or misguided product liability litigation.

Making matters worse, while the law enables CPSC to correct published information it finally deems materially inaccurate, the May 24 proposal does not specify a time frame for making these determinations. This means damaging misinformation could remain on the seemingly credible database indefinitely

Although CPSC has shared some of its plans, the industry coalition still believes there are many important unanswered questions. For instance, how will the agency distinguish between firms with the same name but different product lines? How will it handle products that have been licensed to multiple firms? How will it address counterfeit products or knock-offs? What precautions will the agency take to ensure that the legally responsible manufacturer or private labeler who needs to receive a report of harm actually receives it? These are vital questions that must be answered before the database is launched, the coalition argues.

Looking Ahead

It will literally take an act of Congress to reverse the mandate that the database move forward in March 2011, notwithstanding any fatal flaws, and a legislative reversal in that time frame is unlikely. Therefore, it's important that INDA, along with others in the business community, continue to work with CPSC to refine the proposal and communicate related developments as they unfold. To view the May 24 CPSC database proposal, visit: www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-05-24/pdf/2010-11374.pdf.

By Jessica Franken

Director of Government Affairs, INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry

RELATED ARTICLE: President Obama Signs Miscellaneous Tariff Bill

In a signing ceremony on August 11, President Obama signed into law H.R. 4380, the U.S. Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010, better known as the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). The highly-anticipated bill restores, retroactive to Jan. 1,2010, hundreds of duty suspensions/reductions, among them several relating to rayon including these Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes:

HTS 9902.23.33--Staple fibers of viscose rayon, not carded, combed, or otherwise processed for spinning, measuring 1.67 to 16.67 decitex, each fiber measuring 20 mm or more but not over 150 mm. Once in effect, the current 4.3% duty will fall to zero.

HTS 9902.23.34--Staple fibers of rayon, carded, combed, or otherwise processed for spinning, the foregoing presented in the form of top. Once in effect, the current 5.0% duty will fall to zero.

HTS 9902.55.04--Viscose rayon staple fibers having a decitex of less than 5.0 and a multi-limbed cross-section, the limbs having a length-to-width aspect ratio of at least 2:1. Once in effect, the duty will fall from 4.3% to 1.8%.

HTS 9902.25.59--Staple fibers of viscose rayon, not carded, combed, or otherwise processed for spinning. This MTB would have reduced the current 4.3% tariff to 3.4% but did not make it into H.R. 4380. It is expected to be included in a second MTB anticipated this fall and will remain at 4.3% until then.

The bill's duty provisions go into effect 15 days after enactment and expire on Dec. 31,2012. Requests for retroactivity must be filed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection within 180 days of enactment, and should contain sufficient information to enable Customs to locate or reconstruct (if it cannot be located) the entry.

INDA would like to extend a special thanks to its many members who went out of their way to send letters, make phone calls and conduct Capitol Hill visits to impress upon lawmakers the importance of the MTB. In a city and political climate that is often dominated by inaction, INDA and other groups like it not only demonstrated the power of collective action but also achieved results. Congratulations to all for a job well done.
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Title Annotation:Capitol Comments
Author:Franken, Jessica
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 2010
Words:1230
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