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State Fire Marshals endorse Gall for CPSC Chairman.

In an unexpected development, George Miller, President of the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) released a letter to President George Bush urging the nomination of Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall, the only Republican on the three-member Consumer Product Safety Commission, as Chairman.

Miller wrote January 8 to then President-elect Bush saying that although the association had disagreed with Gall in the past, they believe she has great concern for the safety of American families and that "it is Commissioner Gall's turn at the Commission's helm." (1)

Miller's letter was a surprise since the State Fire Marshals have, in most cases, been aggressive supporters of more regulation while Commissioner Gall has been an advocate of voluntary activity wherever possible. Gall found herself on opposite sides from NASFM on more than one occasion.

For example, the fire marshals have been strong proponents of an upholstered furniture flammability standard, an issue on which they did not have Gall's support. The NASFM is a frequent petitioner of the CPSC on fire safety issues. Besides the petition for an upholstered furniture flammability standard, NASFM in May 1999 petitioned for a labeling rule for polyurethane foam used in upholstered furniture. The fire marshals wanted the CPSC to require that all furniture using polyurethane foam bear labels warning consumers that polyurethane foam is highly flammable. Gall opposed granting the petition.

NASFM also supports legislation titled "The Furniture Fire Safety Act," introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-NJ) in May 2000. And NASFM petitioned CPSC in November 2000 for "Rulemaking on the Flammability of Certain Items of Bedding," including pillows, comforters and mattress pads that contain filling materials that are flammable. There has been no action from CPSC so far on the latest petition.

NASFM's support for Gall is open to interpretation. Some see it as the group's effort to garner favor with Gall, whom they view as the inevitable choice of the President for chairman. The NASFM will have to work with a Bush appointee as chairman eventually, and NASFM prefers to work with someone it knows.

Some others regard the NASFM support as an attempt to retaliate against Chairman Ann Brown, with whom they have had some disagreement lately. In a related matter, the NASFM is involved in the debate over the safety of computer equipment. See story below.

State Fire Marshals Question Safety of Inkjet Printers

One of the strangest examples of misguided efforts to protect the public is the allegation by the National Association of State Fire Marshals that certain computer and printer equipment is highly flammable and a risk to users.

The controversy runs the gamut from claims by environmental groups that flame retardants used in the equipment is hazardous, and resultant action by the European Union, to a CPSC defense of the safety of inkjet printers.

The fire marshals wrote "An Open Letter to Computer Manufacturers" in January 2000 claiming that there were cases of the outer plastic housing of inkjet printers igniting through exposure to a small open flame.

About the same time, environmental groups were attacking the computer industry alleging that brominated flameretardants and other chemicals used in the manufacture of computer equipment are hazardous.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and Greenpeace, for example, both claim that brominated flame-retardants, cadmium, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium in electronic products such as computers and printers are "highly hazardous" and a "known health danger" and "hormone-disrupting chemicals." (2)

In fact, prompted by the demands of such groups, the European Union is moving in the direction of banning brominated flame-retardants used in these products on the basis of their health risk to users, and in the recycling and disposal process. The EU bases its proposed action on claims that levels of these chemicals are found in dolphins and sperm whales and in fish from Northern Europe. Researchers in Sweden claim that levels of the chemicals have doubled every five years in mother's milk, and that elevated blood concentrations have been found in workers at plants dismantling electronic equipment." (3)

Greenpeace is demanding that the EU phase out all halogenated flame-retardants by 2004. In addition, the group demands that manufacturers collect all waste electric and electronic equipment and remove hazardous substances before disposing of them separately.

In contrast, the NASFM complains that U.S. manufacturers are not doing enough to assure the flame resistance of their products.

It would appear that the companies that make these products are in a Catch 22. Consumers could become justifiably confused about where the truth lies.

In this case, CPSC has responded that it knows of almost no incidents in which the outer plastic housing of inkjet printers has ignited and caused fire damage. There have been incidents in which internal electrical components have overheated and caused fires, and there have been several recalls involved with such products. But the fire marshals' claim relevant to computer equipment is based on an alleged hazard in the outer plastic housing, not on the internal electrical components.

The fire marshals issued a news release dated Aug. 29, 2000 expressing concern about fires in college dorms.

"A single candle on a desk can easily ignite some popular brands of computer inkjet printers or a computer keyboard that, in turn, will burn so fast and hot that the full contents of a room will ignite in a matter of minutes," (4) the statement said.

The NASFM also produced a "Statement and Responses to Anticipated Questions" on Computer Equipment Fires.

"All computer equipment should be regarded as highly combustible unless its owner has a written notice from the manufacturer that a device complies with UL Standard 1950 and that its outer plastic housing meets or exceeds the standard known as UL 94 V-O. The mere presence of a UL label does not demonstrate that a product is safe." (5)

In response, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) conducted a Safety Forum in March 2000 to address the confusion.

Those participating in the forum included representatives of Underwriters' Laboratories, the CPSC, and the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), among others. The fire marshals' representatives were invited to attend, but did not appear.

John Hall, director of the fire statistics and research division of NFPA, told the participants that the highest estimate consistent with the data is that external ignition of IT equipment by candles or matches accounts for about 0.01% of U.S. structural fires per year.

According to the summary report on the forum, Hall concluded that "external ignition of IT equipment does not pose a level of risk that should be considered a safety policy priority." (6)

Bill King, Chief Engineer for Electrical and Fire Safety at CPSC, who attended the forum, told the Monitor that he had personally gone through 75 data items collected by CPSC over a five-year period and found no evidence of the type of incidents cited by the fire marshals.

With regard to environmentalists' claims that the equipment may contain chemicals hazardous to the health of users, King remarked: "If in a worst case, all these appliances were made with potentially hazardous chemicals, the off-gassing of toxics would be inconsequential."

But, King said, it is entirely possible to manufacture computer equipment that is both fire-safe and environmentally friendly. He remarked that the current UL standard for computer flammability is a good one and that CPSC has urged manufacturers of other home appliances that might be left running unattended (for example, computer monitors) to adopt the same standard. He added that many of those manufacturers are doing just that. So what could be NASFM's motive for casting doubt on the safety of inkjet printers?

The bulk of NASFM's nearly half a million dollar budget comes from federal grants and contracts. The group's latest report indicates it received $292,000 from a subsidiary agency of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), and $31,000 in various federal contracts. It also receives $50,000 in funding from Philip Morris, $67,000 in dues, and $16,000 in miscellaneous income.

The fire marshals' Washington representative, Sparber and Associates, receives no compensation from NASFM, but lobbying reports on file in Congress as of August 1999 indicate that the firm does receive compensation from the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum." (7) The report acknowledges that the fire prevention agenda of the two groups covers much the same legislative and regulatory territory.

Based on available information, it seems reasonable to say that the fire marshals' questioning of the safety of inkjet printers is totally unfounded. Yet, some in government are taking the question seriously. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) is investigating the General Services Administration (GSA) which has a responsibility for federal offices and equipment. Recently a GAO team visited CPSC headquarters, focusing on the inkjet printer safety issue.

The UL standard covering IT equipment provides for a layer of protection should a device ignite as a result of internal electrical overload. But the power used to operate an inkjet printer, in contrast to a laser printer, is "about enough to operate a doorbell," according to CPSC's Bill King. Thus there is little danger of such products igniting internally.

As a result, inkjet printers do not need the same layer of fire protection as do laser printers or computer monitors. Based on reports from CPSC and others, the fire marshals' claim that the outer plastic housing of the printers are highly flammable is just plain wrong. The Monitor will follow developments on this front.

Is Former Chairman Steorts Interested in CPSC Role?

Nancy Harvey Steorts, CPSC chairman in the early `80's, has been visible lately in the product safety world in Washington. Steorts was appointed to CPSC by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981 but was not reappointed when her term expired. She works as an industry consultant and frequently appears at consumer-related events. Steorts commutes between Dallas and Washington DC but says she spends most of her time now in Washington. Her June 1999 book "Safety and You," published by Syracuse University Press is in its third printing. (Available in paperback at $19.95 or hardback at $39.95.) Steorts also maintains a web site, www.safetymadesimple.com. The site covers safety-related issues and promotes Steorts as a product safety consultant. Some at CPSC have speculated that Steorts may be interested in returning to the agency. Rumors concerning possible new directions for CPSC's leadership keep agency observers guessing.

Compliance Office Seeks Comment on Policy Regarding Products Outside the U.S.

In what reflects a growing recognition of the global nature of product safety, CPSC's Office of Compliance has published for comment a proposed interpretation of the statute regarding reporting obligations for information received about products sold outside the U.S." (8) Alan Schoem, head of the office of Compliance, is said to believe that some manufacturers and/or distributors are unaware that reporting to CPSC is required when they receive information regarding the safety of one of their products, regardless of the geographic location of the product or the incident.

Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall voted against issuing the Policy Statement as drafted, and issued a dissent. She noted that she supports the concept of publishing the policy for comment, but that certain language in the statement is inconsistent with the actual language of the statute. Gall also noted that a recent report by the Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs of the House Committee on Government Reform showed that agencies using "guidance" or "policy" statements may do so as a way of regulating without notice and comment." (9) Moreover, Gall said that whereas the statute, in Section 15(b) speaks of "the product" as failing to comply with a rule, or containing a defect or creating an unreasonable risk, the new statement implies that "incidents or experiences with a substantially similar product, or with a component thereof, sold in a foreign country," could result in a reporting obligation.

"This distinction is an important one and I hope that the Commission will receive comments on it," Gall wrote." (10)

(1) Letter from George Miller, President, National Association of State Fire Marshals, to President-elect George W. Bush, January 8, 2001, Washington DC.

(2) From Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition "Clean Computer Campaign" web site, "Letters to the European Union on the Directive on Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE)."

(3) "Warning: Computers contain toxic chemicals that are released during production, normal use, recycling and/or disposal" from the Greenpeace web site.

(4) "State Fire Marshals Urge `Special Caution' to Prevent Repeat of Deadly College Dorm Fire." From the National Association of State Fire Marshals, news release, August 29, 2000.

(5) "Computer Equipment Fires, Statement and Responses to Anticipated Questions," National Association of State Fire Marshals.

(6) Forum Summary Report, "Forum on Potential External Ignition of Information Technology Equipment,'" The Information Technology Council and the National Fire Protection Association. March 30, 2000, Washington DC.

(7) The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum is funded by The Albemarle Corp, Great Lakes Chemical Co., and two foreign chemical manufacturers. The companies are manufacturers of brominated flame retardants. Its mission is to develop science relating to the uses of brominated flame retardants in products and to promote fire prevention.

(8) Policy Statement on Reporting Information Under Section 15 U.S.C. 2064 (b) About Potentially Hazardous Products Distributed Outside the United States: Request for Comments, Federal Register, January 3, 2001, (Vol. 66, Number 2), U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

(9) See CPSC Monitor, November, 2000 (Vol. 5, Issue 11) "Truth in Regulating Act Becomes Law; Report Issued on Guidance Documents."

(10) Statement of the Honorable Mary Sheila Gall In Opposition to Publication of Policy Statement Concerning Products Sold Outside of the United States, Dec. 13, 2000, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC.
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Title Annotation:National Association of State Fire Marshals lobbies for Mary Sheila Gall to be appointed Chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission
Publication:CPSC Monitor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:2304
Previous Article:Phthalates Back in the News.
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