Are toys safe under the eye of the CPSC?
November 9, 2007 § 1 Comment
We were reading the editorials from the Chicago Tribune when this one caught our attention. It was being read out loud to me and at one point I couldn’t tell what was wrong with the picture the editorial painted. It stated that Nancy Nord, the acting chairwoman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “argues against a requirement to virtually eliminate lead from children’s products…” and that “Nord and predecessor Hal Stratton took dozens of trips that were paid at least in part by manufacturers, lobbying groups or lawyers associated with regulated products.”
“Nord has lost track of who her real clients are.”
Now, this is one of the people that’s supposed to make sure that they toys (for one) are safe for our children. If she’s in cahoots with the toy manufacturers then how are we going to be sure that our children aren’t eating toxic products- and they put everything in their mouths. That’s a given. Would Nord let toxic toys slide by without a recall just because she’d feel bad about ratting on her friends?
It was Friday’s (11/2) Washington Post article that shed light on the questionable “gift travel” Nord and Stratton had been receiving from the toy industry. On one occasion, the article details, in “February 2006, the Toy Industry Association provided Nord with rail fare, two nights in a hotel, meals — and even $51 to pay her Union Station parking bill — to attend the American International Toy Fair in New York, one of the industry’s biggest product exhibitions.” “The records also detail several trips that were paid for by lawyers who represent manufacturers in product liability lawsuits.” What does the CPSC have to say about this potential conflict of interest? “CPSC officials defend the industry-paid trips as a way for the agency to be in contact with manufacturing officials and hear their concerns despite a limited travel budget.” Some say it’s a violation of the ethics code and that’s exactly what we’re hoping to find out.
The next day, the Post published an article informing us that Nord had requested that the Office of Government Ethics conduct a review of the travel policy of the CPSC. Legislators (who are trying to pass a bill to increase the budget, responsability and staffing for the CPSC) “said they will introduce an amendment that bans industry-paid travel by agency employees.” Many think Nord should resign now. The NY Times had an article at the end of October stating that, “Ms. Nord’s opposition to key elements of the legislation is consistent with the broadly deregulatory approach of the Bush administration.”
Tuesday of this week, the Post published an article on the ethics review that was due to speak on the appropriateness of the industry funded trips that Nord and Stratton have taken over the years. (You’ll need a log-in to read the article) It doesn’t look good for these folks as these trips and how they wrote off expenses is sneaky. Nord brought her husband along on an industry funded trip and in her notes wrote that he was a driver for the rented car.
Both of the general counsels to Nord (Page Faulk) and Stratton (John G. Mullan) travelled with them which makes clearing them of any illegal action harder. So happens that the key ethics review memo stated at the top that it was from Faulk, under the “Designated Agency of Ethics Official” title. “But it was signed by someone the CPSC yesterday called ‘an alternate ethics officer’ because Faulk was the traveler.” Experts are criticizing Nord and Stratton’s travel. One career ethics lawyer who requested anonymity said:
“It’s never a good idea to have your expenses paid for by a party or parties who will be advocating on a matter before your agency… It’s legal . . . but it is clearly an abuse of discretion. . . . It exhibited at best enormous insensitivity, and at worst outright disdain for the ethical principles of government service.”
This kind of “legal” but questionable behavior goes on and we’ll have to hope there’s some conclusion that can help us trust our government agencies.
R. David Pittle, who helped found the CPSC, said, “The CPSC is the only thing standing between a consumer and a potentially dangerous product. . . . For me, it doesn’t matter if these trips and gratuities pass some legal test — it’s highly inappropriate public policy.”
To avoid the drama, stick to buying non-treated, unpainted wooden toys, organic fabric toy or make them yourself out of non-toxic options. European toys, while smaller and more expensive, are more than likely to be safer. The European Union has banned phthalates in toys and other toys for children under 3, as per Mary Brune in her article “Out of the mouths of babes” in the new Mothering magazine.
If you’re interested in reading the newspaper articles, read them sooner than later as they will go into archives for which you’ll need a username and password (which you can get free at the Washington Post). I’ll try to update the links when they go to the archives.