U.S. House panel backs product safety agency revamp
By Kevin Drawbaugh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional panel voted on Thursday to beef up the U.S. consumer product safety watchdog and effectively ban lead from children's toys after recalls of millions of lead-tainted goods from China.
Moving Congress a step closer to overhauling the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee cast a voice vote in favor of a bill to boost funding and staff for the agency.
The bill, headed next for the House floor, would also require more independent safety testing of products, wider use of tracking labels and better recall procedures.
It advanced on the same day that the CPSC announced a recall by retailer Bon-Ton Stores Inc of about 1,000 children's bath robes, made in China, because they failed to meet flammability standards. No injuries have been reported.
"Recently, it hardly seems like a week goes by before some new product is being recalled ... Toothpaste, dog food and toy beads have all been found to be poisonous, and it seems like we're finding lead in everything," said Rep. Joe Barton at a subcommittee meeting where the bill was approved.
Barton, a Texas Republican, is co-sponsoring the bill with Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush, who chairs the subcommittee.
The bill resembles a measure approved last month by the Senate Commerce Committee and bound for the Senate floor.
"After decades of neglect, this bill restores the CPSC to its rightful place of prominence and gives it the necessary tools to grapple with the global marketplace and protect American consumers, particularly children," Rush said.
In the 1980s, the CPSC had a staff of almost 1,000. Today, it has 420 people and a tiny testing office for toys.
Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the agency, has been criticized by Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rush called for Nord's ouster on October 30. But Nord has refused to step down and demands for her resignation have subsided.
A former Bush administration counsel and U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive, Nord is one of only two commissioners now serving on the CPSC. The agency was created in the 1970s to regulate hazards in about 15,000 different consumer products.
The House bill would restore the CPSC to its full complement of five commissioners and give it more clout to enforce product safety rules.
It would also require that, 60 days after its enactment, any children's product containing more than 600 parts per million of lead would be banned from the market.
The lead limit would tighten to 250 parts per million after two years and to 100 parts per million after four years.
(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)