Earlier this week, the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Williamson reported on industry-financed trips that Consumer Product Safety Commission chairs had taken. Today, she writes about other CPSC staff members (from both the Clinton and Bush administrations) who took such trips, and about proposed legislation spurred by the CPSC travel revelations. Meanwhile, eight new toy recalls have been issued.
Clinton appointee Ann Brown chaired the CPSC from 1994 to 2001 did not accept travel paid by regulated industries, Williamson reports; she did, however, send some of her staff members on industry-funded trips. These employees and others traveled to conferences and seminars at the expense of the toy, cotton, and fireworks industries:
Records covering the period from 1998 to 2002 describe two trips by Brown’s politically appointed staff, including a six-day toy-industry-funded trip to China in 2000 by then-general counsel Walt A. Sanders, who participated in a seminar on new toy-safety standards.
The agency’s current executive director, Patsy Semple, is listed in the documents as having taken a 2002 trip to Palm Springs to speak at a meeting of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, whose members had been subject to recalls in the years preceding the trip. At the time, Semple was special assistant to Mary Sheila Gall, a Republican-appointed commissioner no longer with the agency. Semple’s trip was paid for by the manufacturers’ association.
Two industry-paid trips — a two-day trip to Los Angeles to attend a Toy Manufacturers of America toy-testing seminar and a one-day trip to speak to the National Cotton Council in Orlando — were taken in 1998 and 2000 by Clinton-appointed commissioner Thomas Hill Moore, who besides Nord is the only other commissioner at the agency.
Three other China trips, two paid for by the toy industry, and one by fireworks manufacturers, were taken by Alan Schoem, a 31-year employee who was director of compliance when he retired in 2004.
Although the practice has been going on for some time, the current confluence of events – massive toy recalls, the CPSC acting chair’s objection to agency-strengthening legislation, and accounts of industry-funded travel published in the Washington Post – has motivated lawmakers to curb it:
Seven Democratic lawmakers, reacting to earlier disclosures of nearly 30 more-recent business-paid trips by the current and past chairmen of the commission, introduced a measure yesterday to end travel by all federal regulators at the expense of the industries they regulate.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Restoring Truth in Regulator Travel Act yesterday; Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Barack Obama (D-IL) cosponsored it.
At the same time, the CPSC was busy posting news releases about recalls of eight toys. The recalled toy robots, Dizzy Ducks music boxes, Winnie-the-Pooh spinning tops, Duck Family wind-up toys, pull-back cars, dragster cars, and red wagons are being pulled from shelves due to paint with excessive lead levels. The Aqua Dots bead craft kit is being recalled because the beads’ coating contains a chemical that can turn toxic; children who swallow the beads “can become comatose, develop respiratory depression, or have seizures.” The Associated Press has more details on this one:
Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the compound can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.
Naren Gunja from Australia’s Poisons Information Center said the drug’s effect on children was “quite serious . . . and potentially life-threatening.”
The recall was announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday several hours after published reports about the recall in Australia.
The two U.S. children who swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said Wednesday. A 20-month-old has recovered completely, while the other child, whose age was not known, has been released from a hospital after five days and is recovering, he said.
“To prevent any other child from being hurt, we are calling upon parents to take the product away immediately,” Wolfson said.
In Australia, the toys were ordered off store shelves on Tuesday, when officials learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old also was being treated.
Toys are serious business. The toy industry is serious about defending its interests; our government needs to be serious about defending children’s lives and health.