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We’ve written before about how the Consumer Product Safety Commission lacks both the authority and the will to come down hard on companies that keep their unsafe products on the market. Now, Public Citizen has tallied up the time that elapsed between the dates when the CPSC learned of several dangerous products and the dates when the agency issued warnings about the hazards. Their results will probably worry anyone who’s purchased a coffee maker, bicycle, or infant swing over the past few years.

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Annys Shin of the Washington Post has reported that Dr. Gail Charnley, a well-known corporate product defense expert, is the White House’s leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

We’ve written extensively here about this beleaguered agency. Finally, after the nation watched helplessly at the recall of millions of lead-contaminated toys, President Bush has evidently decided to replace current Chairman Nancy Nord with someone more competent to safeguard the interests of manufacturers of dangerous products.

The Post article lists a few reasons the public might be concerned about a Charnley appointment, including one dispute over a missing conflict of interest disclosure. Curious about Dr. Charnley’s work, I spent a little time on the web reviewing selected aspects of her work, and have turned up what appears to be a new failure to disclose a pretty basic financial conflict. But I’ll return to that after reviewing what the Post has learned:

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Congress left town last month without passing legislation that would overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission, whose weakness has been apparent in recent problems with toys containing lead, dangerous magnets, and a chemical that metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. They did pass a ban on industry-sponsored travel (after the Washington Post reported on trips for CPSC officials sponsored by the toy industry), and they gave the CPSC an $80 million budget for the next fiscal year, which represents the agency’s biggest budget increase in 30 years.

The Washington Post’s Annys Shin reports that the money “will go toward additional staff and improvements to its antiquated testing facilities.” In a separate article, she focuses on one retiring CPSC staff person who will be hard to replace:

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In all the rigmarole of the holiday season, you might not have heard about the consumer safety hazard associated with Christmas lights (or noticed the fine print warnings on their boxes).

It’s no secret that lead is used in light strings’ polyvinyl chloride insulation to prevent deterioration and to guard against fire. But what is a new development this year is the revelation that handling the wiring while you “deck the halls” may result in significant lead exposure.

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Once again, toys are turning up with high lead levels – and, once again, it was an advocacy group, rather than the Consumer Product Safety Commission, that did the tests and broke the news.

The nonprofit Ecology Center, working with other groups across the country, bought and tested 1,268 children’s products, and found that 35 percent of them contained lead. The results from their tests – which also looked for polyvinyl chloride, cadmium, and arsenic – are available at

Tracey Easthope, Director of the Center’s Environmental Health Project, explains why they took on the project:

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Elizabeth Williamson of the Washington Post has written powerful article on the failure of the regulatory system to ensure that amusement park “thrill” rides don’t kill or injure customers, primarily teenagers and children. She provides grisly detail on a topic we’ve talked about here before: the inability and/or unwillingness of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect the public.

After describing one series of identical accidents that occurred several times on the same ride, Williamson notes

The CPSC has no employee whose full-time job is to ensure the safety of such rides. The agency’s 90 field investigators — who oversee 15,000 products, work from their homes and live mostly on the East Coast — are so overstretched that they frequently arrive at carnival accident scenes after rides have been dismantled.

As a result, critics say, supermarket shopping carts feature a more standardized child-restraint system than do amusement rides, which can travel as fast as 100 mph and, according to federal estimates, cause an average of four deaths and thousands of injuries every year.

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The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, a group created by asbestos victims and their families, bought products from national retailers and had them tested at independent labs. One of the most disturbing findings was high levels of asbestos in powder from a toy CSI fingerprint kit. The powder is intended to be sprinkled on surfaces and brushed with a soft-bristle brush – creating conditions ripe for inhalation.

Andrew Schneider reports on the group’s findings in the Seattle P-I, and notes that CBS, which licenses the kit, has asked its licensees to have the kits tested immediately and to remove the toy from the market if it’s found to be unsafe.

Why is a small organization – which spent more than $165,000 getting products tested at government-certified labs – taking on the job of policing consumer products? Schneider explains:

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By Paul D. Blanc

The interconnections among toxic butter flavoring, fatal coal mine “bumps,” and tainted Barbie accessories may not be immediately obvious – but they all reflect the failures of an increasingly compromised U. S. regulatory apparatus.

In early September, news broke that the artificial butter flavoring chemical diacetyl had caused severe lung disease in a hapless consumer who liked his popcorn just a bit too much. The resulting publicity spurred the leading industrial user of diacetyl, ConAgra, to remove the chemical from its product line. Thus was accomplished in one day what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was unable to do despite half a dozen years of accumulated evidence that the chemical was causing lung disease in workers exposed to it on the job.

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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.

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After Consumer Product Safety Commission acting chair Nancy Nord opposed Senate legislation designed to strengthen the agency, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for Nord’s resignation. The Washington Post’s Annys Shin has the story:

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