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Fresno, California

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David Rowell
David Rowell
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Who's Watching for Defective Products?

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Most people are familiar with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and know that it is the government agency charged with protecting consumers from dangerous products. But in an editorial in the Washington Post on Sunday, Ann Brown, former chair of the CSPC, and Pamela Gilbert, former executive director, charge that the Commission has been “neutered almost to the point of uselessness.” If the Consumer Product Safety Commission isn’t watching out for consumers, who is?

The CSPC was established by Congress in 1973. Its mission is to “[protect] the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products.” According to Brown and Gilbert, these products “are associated with about 27,000 deaths and 33 million injuries each year, costing the nation more than $700 billion annually.”

Early on, the CSPC was an effective protector of consumers, largely because it enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and a resulting steady budget and staff. Indeed, its activities in three types of products alone (cribs, walkers and cigarette lighters) are estimated to save about $2 billion and to prevent more than 300 deaths and 10,000 injuries annually. According to Brown and Gilbert, though, a history of downsizing government and budget cuts has changed things, resulting in “our current situation, where millions of toys have been recalled in the past year” because the CSPC “is too small and underfunded and because it lacks the will” to effectively police consumer products.

Recalls and personal injury lawsuits are one thing; preventing the injury in the first place is another, and better solution. We need to contact our representatives in Congress and ensure that they understand how important the work of this agency is, and that they support efforts to revitalise the CPSC.

For more information on this subject matter, please refer to the section on Defective and Dangerous Products.