When Americans buy toys or other kids’ products, most reasonably assume that what they’re buying isn’t going to hurt their loved ones in some way. It’s such a commonplace experience that it’s easy to take for granted.
What people may not think about is that the perception — and reality — of safety is possible thanks to robust consumer protections, which were pushed for by advocates, made into law by Congress, and implemented by a federal agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This summer, we’re celebrating these consumer protections that keep our families safe, and the groundbreaking law which created them.
Before the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
Ten years ago this August, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was signed into law, ushering in a new era of product safety and major public health victories. Before the CPSIA, the market for children’s products, from toys to cribs, was flooded with dangerous products.
Millions of toys were recalled because they contained excessive levels of lead, and millions of cribs were recalled for injuring and killing infants. The industry safety standards for infant and durable products that manufacturers were supposed to abide by were not protecting children. Children’s products were not required to be tested before they were sold. Consumers did not have access to important safety information.
While there was mounting evidence of manufacturers putting children in harm’s way, the CPSC did not have the resources or authority it needed to adequately protect consumers from unsafe products. On top of that, our ports were not being adequately monitored to prevent unsafe products from entering the United States.
The situation was dire, but through the hard work of activists and members of Congress willing to address the problem, the CPSIA was born. It is difficult to understate the importance of the law, and the wide variety of safety issues it addressed.
New Mandatory Safety Standards
One of the law’s requirements was the creation of mandatory standards for infant and toddler durable products, such as cribs and beds. The United States now has the strongest crib safety standards in the world. Standards have also been promulgated for play yards, bath seats, portable bed rails, infant walkers and toddler beds. This provision, known as Danny’s Law, is named after Danny Keysar, an infant from Chicago who was killed when the side rail of the portable crib he was sleeping in at his child care home collapsed, strangling him.
Thanks to the CPSIA, cribs used in child care facilities and hotels must meet strong safety standards. Product registration cards and a means to register online are also required for these same infant and toddler durable products, making it easier for caregivers to learn of product safety recalls.
Reduction of Lead and Dangerous Chemicals
Prior to the CPSIA, excessive levels of lead in children’s products was a serious and widespread problem. Lead – a potent neurotoxin that can cause permanent, irreversible brain damage – has no known safe level of exposure, and poses particular dangers to children.
Fortunately, the CPSIA substantially reduced lead in toys and children’s products down to 100 parts per million (ppm) by August 2011. Any children’s product that doesn’t meet these limits is now considered a banned hazardous substance.
In addition to curbing lead in children’s products, the CPSIA also banned a number of dangerous chemicals known as phthalates. Phthalates are a class of chemicals often used to soften plastics, but they also disrupt the endocrine system. Exposure to phthalates has been linked to breast cancer, developmental issues, decreased fertility, obesity and asthma. The CPSIA led to the banning of eight of these toxic chemicals from children’s products.
Holding Manufacturers Accountable
Before the CPSIA, federal and state government officials often had their hands tied when it came to holding bad corporate actors accountable for producing and selling dangerous products. Now the CPSC and state attorneys general have the necessary authority to enforce product safety laws. In fact, the CPSIA includes the most significant improvements to the CPSC since the agency was established in the 1970s.
The CPSC received substantial increases in its resources, including its staffing levels, its laboratory and computer resources, and its various authorities to conduct recalls. The CPSC also gained the authority to levy more significant civil penalties against violators of its safety regulations, helping to deter wrongdoing. The CPSC has also been able to address product safety at US ports.
Putting Power into Consumers’ Hands
Perhaps the most visible consequence of the CPSIA was the creation of the first comprehensive publicly accessible consumer incident database – SaferProducts.gov. This website allows members of the public to report hazards they’ve experienced with products in their homes, and research others’ reports of harm. It gives the CPSC the information it needs to identify trends in product safety hazards, enabling the agency to respond quickly and issue necessary recalls.
As we celebrate the passage, implementation and significant achievements of the CPSIA, we also look toward the future. The CPSIA is an amazing achievement, and an inspiration to all of us who look forward to building an even safer world for our children, but we have more to do. We need to ensure that the CPSC continues to implement the CPSIA effectively by establishing mandatory standards for all durable infant and toddler products, holding manufacturers accountable, and making Saferproducts.gov an even more useful resource.