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The new administration at CPSC.

(Note: The following is excerpted from a longer presentation that CPSC Monitor editor Carol Dawson prepared for an industry safety meeting scheduled for late-July.)

In the nearly one year since CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton began his term of office, he has also inaugurated some subtle but noteworthy changes.

In December 2001, CPSC Monitor analyzed the performance of the agency during the seven years it was headed by former Chairman Ann Brown. At that time we made recommendations on how to improve on that record:

1. Instill a tone of civility and openness.

2. Base regulations on good science.

3. Stick to the statute-and don't regulate by press release.

4. Give the voluntary standards community the respect it deserves.

5. Work for improvements to the statute.

6. Stick to the mission of the agency.

The first recommendation, to set a more civil and open tone, has been achieved. Staff members are more relaxed and friendly with outside inquiries. Chairman Stratton has also implemented a plan to bring more public participation in CPSC briefings.

The second recommendation-base regulations on good science-seems to be in the plan too. In September 2002, the staff recommended that the Commission deny the Greenpeace petition to ban the use of phthalates in plastic toys. Staff members told the Commissioners that their research showed that children using polyvinyl chloride toys are NOT exposed to any dangerous amount of harmful chemicals.

The final Commission decision (2-1, with Commissioner Moore dissenting) to deny the petition took much too much time, however. The staff briefing package was completed in September 2002, but the Commissioners did not vote until March 2003.

CPSC is also considering a petition by the Environmental Working Group and the Healthy Building Network to ban CCA-treated wood (5) in playground equipment. Petitioners have charged that the treated wood leaches arsenic and that children playing on equipment built of such wood are at higher risk for bladder and lung cancer.

The EPA has already said it plans to cancel the registrations of companies who produce these wood products, so that by the end of this year, CCA-treated wood products will for the most part not be available for consumer use. But according to many in the scientific community, the level of arsenic to which children would be exposed, if any, does not pose any health risks.

Even though EPA has already acted to force producers "voluntarily" to stop production for consumer use, the staff study, without amendment, could cause adverse consequences to business and to consumers.

For example, if the staff study stands, it could be used to prompt an inappropriate public response. The staff promised the Commissioners to continue to investigate and provide more information; hopefully, this time it will clarify the issue.

Chairman Stratton's administration has had another important effect. Many regulatory briefings are now open for public participation.

The new format allows input from members of the public who commented on the proposal in writing. This new format was used for the first time February 21, when the Commission held a public briefing on a petition to mandate product registration cards.

The Feb. 21 meeting proved to be lengthier than usual, but much more useful than previous staff-only briefings.

Chairman Stratton and Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall both noted in their statements that they voted for denial mainly because they recognized product registration as ineffective and prohibitively costly.

Stratton says he has been charged with favoring "free markets," and admits that in a sense he is pro-business. In remarks at a product safety conference last fall, he said, "government has a specific role to help protect people and promote safety in society."

Stratton said he is committed to due process and to reliance on scientific facts, not on the somewhat nebulous "precautionary principle." Two other Stratton principles are to find "solutions that make sense," and to look at ways to put the agency's resources where they will do the most good for the most people. (6)

Stratton is serious about collecting penalties from violators. He recently told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Product Safety:

"Last year alone the Commission completed 387 cooperative recalls involving about 50 million product units. These recalls ranged from promotional toys to power tools. Our enforcement division completed 13 civil penalty cases that resulted in over $4 million in fines for failure to report a hazardous defect to the Commission or for selling products in violation of CPSC's mandatory safety standards." (7)

(Stratton later noted in his testimony that on his watch, he had overseen 249 product recalls and over $3.5 million in civil and criminal penalties.) (8)

The new administration at CPSC deserves good marks on two other fronts. CPSC no longer uses the press release as a method for badgering industry.

In contrast to the previous CPSC administration, this one seems to be able to work cooperatively with the voluntary standards community. No examples of browbeating the standards community come to mind.

Regrettably, however, the new Administration did not seek ways to improve on the statute. The Senate Commerce Committee recently voted out a new reauthorization bill for CPSC (see above), but the Commissioners did not propose any substantive revisions.

The Commissioners could have requested some other amendments to the bill, but chose to remain silent. Rounding out the Stratton record, we note that the former Chairman's "Safety Circle" program and her "Chairman's Award" gimmick have not been renewed.

Taken as a whole, the record of the new Administration wins our approval.

(5) CCA is Chromated Copper Arsenate, a chemical used to treat wood to resist insects and fungus.

(6) Speech before a conference in Washington DC sponsored by Collier Shannon & Scott, Nov. 12, 2002.

(7) Testimony of the Honorable Hal Stratton, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, before the Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on Reauthorization of the CPSC, June 17, 2003.

(8) Ibid.
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Title Annotation:United States. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Publication:CPSC Monitor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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