We need to beef up the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The June 13 recall of 1.5 million Thomas & Friends toy train sets demonstrates that need. How could toy trains coated with lead paint have
crossed U.S. borders and chugged their way onto store shelves? More importantly, how can the commission be sure to get them out of the hands
There is a temptation to place all the blame on Chinese manufacturers for making unsafe, substandard or counterfeit products. But unless government safety agencies, importers, distributors and retailers check the safety of goods before they cross our boarders, American consumers will continue to be left at risk.
For many years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission hasn't had the resources or the leadership to effectively police the marketplace for unsafe products, whether those products are made here or come from overseas.
The agency has taken a reactive approach to safety. Products are pushed to market and later pulled only if hazards emerge. Sometimes, it takes injury or death to bring action. By contrast, the European Union has a proactive product-safety process that requires products to be proven essentially safe before they reach store shelves.
In the United States, most recalls for hazardous products are issued once the federal agency gains the cooperation of the manufacturer. But that's not a given.
Kazuma, the Chinese maker of a substandard children's all-terrain vehicle, recently thumbed its nose at the agency's request for a recall, and the commission could do nothing but publish a strong warning detailing its safety concerns.
Not surprisingly, the warning garnered little public attention. Recall notices don't fare much better.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission relies on the media to report the news of recalls, but unless the hazards are great or the numbers are large, word may never reach consumers. It's little wonder that the effectiveness of most recalls is dismally poor.
The number of recalls has hit record levels. It's time we develop and enforce tough regulations that hold importers, distributors and retailers responsible for the safety of the goods they sell.
The threat of significant penalties may spur companies to test and inspect products before they reach consumers' homes and hands. And when an unsafe product manages to slip through this process, the government ought to be able to require its immediate removal.
Lax regulation and slow response times are not acceptable.
Our children's lives are at stake.
Donald L. Mays is senior director of Product Safety Planning at the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.