International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization Conference Keynote Address - Thursday, February 24, 2011, Orlando, Florida

February 24, 2011

Good afternoon everyone. Michelle [Reinan], congratulations on your tenure as ICPHSO president. This outstanding organization was in very capable hands with you at the helm over the past year. Let’s give a round of applause to Michelle for her work to improve the health and safety of consumers in Wisconsin—and around the world.

 

To incoming president Mark Dewar, Ross Koeser, Paul Rossman, CPSC’s very own Marc Schoem, and the ICPHSO Board, thank you for the invitation to report once again on the State of CPSC.

 

I am excited to be back at ICPHSO. Last year I came before all of you and spelled out an ambitious agenda for the agency in 2010. Today I am pleased to tell you about the promises that we kept last year as well as the vision we have for stepping up product safety in the year ahead.

 

As the President said in his State of the Union address, “we do big things.” This certainly applies to our great country, and it also applies to our approach at CPSC to keeping families safe.

 

We certainly closed out 2010 with a goal of doing something big. It was a herculean effort by CPSC staff and the Commission, but we came together in December and delivered a unanimous vote to approve new crib safety standards. The result was a victory for parents, children, advocates for child safety, and CPSC.

 

These vastly improved full-sized and non-full-sized crib standards will usher in a new generation of safer cribs over the next few months. Safer cribs will bring more peace of mind to parents who just want their baby to have a safe sleep.

 

I will talk more about our efforts to implement the crib rules later in my remarks.

 

Two additional standards that were called for in Section 104 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act were also approved by the Commission last spring. They may not have garnered the same level of attention that cribs did, but a lot of time and effort still went into crafting the rules. I’m referring to baby bath seats and baby walkers, and I’m pleased to report that the votes to establish new federal standards for both products were also unanimous.

 

The bathtub and the stairs are clearly two of the most high risk places in the home for babies and toddlers, and these two rules will help prevent drownings and serious falls.

 

ASTM leadership and the subcommittee members played a positive role in working with CPSC staff on upgrading these standards from voluntary to mandatory. I want to thank ASTM for responding to my call to bring new thinking and speed to the standards development process.

 

Switching to cadmium in children’s products, I believe we showed that being proactive can help prevent a wave of violative products from coming into the U.S marketplace. We demonstrated the ability to learn from past mistakes, and in turn, we held off what might have been a repeat of the wave of lead in 2007.

 

Sure, the press got a lot of play out of cadmium, even funnyman Jon Stewart got into the act. Yet the facts paint a different picture.

 

We found dangerously high levels of cadmium in five brands of metal jewelry, which we recalled, and we turned back a few shipments of metal jewelry at the ports before the goods ever made it into the hands of children. Though the number of units of jewelry recalled due to cadmium pales in comparison to the 180 million pieces of metal jewelry recalled due to lead.

 

Our market and port surveillance is still going strong, as we have a special program that involves screening children’s products for cadmium if they have low or no lead, and vice versa.

 

To stay ahead of the issue, CPSC’s scientists developed some of the leading research in the country on acceptable daily intake levels for cadmium. And this science is being used by staff to push for the creation of new cadmium standards in two ASTM subcommittees—one is addressing cadmium in the substrate of metal jewelry and the F963 committee is working on cadmium in the substrate in toys.

 

The Commission recently voted to defer acting on a cadmium petition in order to give ASTM time to craft new standards. CPSC technical staff has made their position on these standards abundantly clear. I expect the TIA and FTAJA members who sit on these committees to use this additional time to help bring these standards to a ballot vote.

 

Another success story in 2010 involved toy safety, especially the effort to get the lead out of toys.

 

In 2008 there were 172 toy recalls in the U.S. I know it is becoming outdated to talk about the wave of toy recalls of 2007 and 2008, but it helps us measure the progress that the industry is making.

 

Solid progress that first started in 2009 continued through 2010, as fewer and fewer models of defective toys were found in our marketplace.

 

The number of toy recalls dropped from 172 in 2008 to 50 in 2009, and it dropped again to 44 in 2010.

 

The numbers are moving in the right direction.

 

Only three of the 44 toy recalls last year were the result of lead violations. Those three recalls represented a drop from nine in 2009 and 19 in 2008.

 

Now that’s progress.

 

There is a lot of talk going on about testing and rightly so. But we should not lose sight of the progress that has been made by many companies in achieving compliance with the underlying standards mandated by the CPSIA.

 

I am pleased that many toy manufacturers and distributors have responded to the calls for compliance with U.S. lead regulations. The results of the changes made by industry in the supply chain are helping to restore the confidence of American parents—confidence that lead is not being added to toy paints or substrates.

 

As I stated at this year’s Toy Fair in Hong Kong and as my colleague Bob Adler stated at last week’s Toy Fair in New York City, we expect no let down in keeping the lead out of toys and other children’s products.

 

In addition to toys and juvenile products, some other notable accomplishments in 2010 include:

 

a joint effort with HUD to establish a remediation protocol for the families who have been deeply impacted by problem drywall,

 

a joint initiative with FDA to warn parents to not use sleep positioners, and

 

an education effort to warn new parents about the potential suffocation danger to babies in certain infant slings.

 

These are all serious issues that the agency has tackled, issues that impact health and safety and sometimes life and death. I am proud of the way CPSC staff day in and day out stands up when the bell rings and steps forward to serve and protect.

 

We have taken a look back at the year that was, so let’s now turn our attention to this year.

 

I am still optimistic about the year ahead.

 

Some of you may find that surprising, but getting out of the Beltway Bubble for a few days can bring about a fresh perspective.

 

My optimism is based around CPSC’s safety agenda for 2011.

 

Are there forces on Capitol Hill that want to change this agenda? Absolutely. Are there individuals in this room who have viewpoints that contrast with what I want the agency to achieve? Certainly.

 

That’s how government works.

 

Yet it should not stop us from having a civil discussion about policy differences. Just like it does not stop all of the Commissioners from having lunch together after a contentious Commission hearing.

 

I know that there is a perception that this Commission argues and disagrees constantly, like no other Commission before. Well, that is a misconception. Here is a statistic to consider: more than 85 percent of the votes recorded by the current Commission have been unanimous.

 

85 percent.

 

I point out this statistic because although there are times that we may not see eye to eye, I hope as President Obama often says, that we are able to disagree without being disagreeable.

 

We may sometimes disagree over the priorities and rulemaking decisions of the agency, but it is my hope that we can do so without personal and disparaging attacks.

 

I believe that the lessons learned in Tuscan, Arizona are ones that all of us in this room can also take to heart.

 

During my remarks at ICPHSO last year, I predicted that 2010 would be the “Year of the Consumer.” And in many ways that proved to be true.

 

Well, I believe 2011 is going to prove to be “The Year To Get Connected With CPSC.”

 

From Twitter to Facebook, from SaferProducts.gov to our Small Business Ombudsman, from testimony on regulatory challenges to testimonials about children saved in pools, we are expanding the touchpoints that businesses and consumers have with the agency.

 

You can connect with CPSC on our blog, widget, phone app, listserv, Hotline, websites, feedback line, surveys, and community events.

 

Through the use of technology and a return to traditional outreach approaches, we are trying to reach the masses and reach targeted communities with our safety messages.

 

We want small businesses and foreign regulators who cannot afford to travel to conferences like ICPHSO to not face an insurmountable information disadvantage. Through plainly written and translated materials, we can empower a handmade toy crafter in Hanover or a garment inspector in Hanoi to know the rules and standards that need to be followed.

 

We want families of all demographics, across the digital divide, to know how they can access safety information and how they can report product incidents. These families need our information. No child or adult should suffer a preventable injury because they “just didn’t know.”

 

Our initiatives this year aim to save more lives, prevent more injuries, and connect more consumers and businesses to CPSC. These programs include:

 

implementing our new, five-year Strategic Plan;

 

promoting the activities of our Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman and new foreign office;

 

expanding CPSC’s focus on toxic metals beyond lead and cadmium;

 

launching the consumer database on March 11;

 

working with child care associations, hotels, motels, and consumers to educate them on the new crib rules;

 

continuing to implement new Section 104 rules every six months;

 

rolling out the Pool Safely 2011 campaign in May; and

 

sustaining the Minority Outreach program.

 

I would like to provide additional insights with you regarding a few of my top priorities.

 

As you heard during this morning’s panel discussion, our new Strategic Plan will control our agency’s heartbeat, how fast it beats, and which muscles support it.

 

This plan will guide us toward a long term approach that I believe is best for CPSC and the industries we regulate—that is to be more proactive.

 

In fact, many of you in this room had the same advice during your discussions with our strategic planning team. With limited resources, being proactive may be the only path toward success for the agency. And it is the only path for CPSC to follow if we are to truly become the global leader in product safety.

 

I believe that we are knocking on the door of being that global leader due to a renewed focus at home on injury prevention and focus abroad on best manufacturing practices.

 

On the injury prevention front, we will use the Strategic Plan to conduct even more rigorous hazard identification. From the dangers associated with toxic metals to the strangulation risks associated with window cords and drawstrings in outerwear, we have a proven track record of being a global leader in identifying hazards. What our Strategic Plan will do is help us turn hazard identification into injury prevention.

 

We know cadmium in children’s jewelry and exposed cords on Roman shades are dangerous. What we are working on is reducing a child’s exposure to these risks through consumer awareness and standards that eliminate the risk.

 

Overseas our proactive efforts to work with global regulators, manufacturers, and suppliers must result in safety being built into products intended for our store shelves.

 

One the best ways that we can deliver on the promise of our Strategic Plan is for our roadmap with the Chinese government to result in real reform of the manufacturing processes used by makers of children’s products.

 

During my visit to Shanghai in October, we laid the ground work for Chinese companies to implement proven best practices. These include:

 

factoring the potential for misuse into design,

 

putting strict controls on components and other inputs, and

 

conducting enough sampling and testing to ensure that all of the products coming off the manufacturing line are safe for consumers.

 

The long term view that the Strategic Plan takes is in line with the manner by which we have expanded our agreements with AQSIQ. Change does not happen quickly in China, but I believe in our roadmap, and I believe AQSIQ shares our commitment to affecting positive change in their manufacturing sector.

 

If the roadmap brings about real results, it has the potential to be one of the most significant efforts toward prevention that our agency has achieved.

 

In case you did not know, our next biannual CPSC-AQSIQ Consumer Product Safety Summit will be in October, in Washington. I hope many of you will be able to attend.

 

Our work in China will be a key component of the new Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman. We have Neal Cohen, who is doing a great job as our full time Small Business Ombudsman; we have Jenny Wang and Jeff Hisgen in our first foreign office in Beijing, which I travelled to Beijing to formally open. The office will continue to grow this year, but I want to share with you my vision for this office.

 

The need for the Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman is great. I believe it demonstrates that CPSC is willing to be part of the solution by providing a dedicated touchpoint for industry and foreign governments.

 

This office will coordinate and provide education and outreach activities to domestic and international stakeholders, including manufacturers, retailers, resellers, small businesses, foreign governments, and consumers.

 

We realize that many manufacturers may not know where to turn for information on our regulations or might experience difficulty accessing the information they need to fully address safety in the manufacturing process.

 

As you heard Neal Cohen say, we have established a dedicated page for small businesses, with information that is presented in a manner that is more understandable than a Federal Register notice.

 

We’re not looking to take away business from the outside counsels here today, we’re just trying to help those who cannot afford your services.

 

I believe that by establishing an office dedicated to addressing the questions and concerns of the regulated community, CPSC can facilitate the transfer of knowledge across industries. This, I believe, will ultimately create safer products through better educated manufacturers.

 

The Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman has the potential to focus on important issues, such as enhanced quality assurance in the manufacturing process in China and beyond.

 

During my travel overseas, I learned early on how much foreign governments rely on the United States for help in developing their product safety systems.

 

I had quite a memorable trip to Hanoi within weeks of taking office. The Vietnamese government could not have been more welcoming. In fact, they would have been happy if some of our agency officials could have stayed for a few months to help companies in their country learn U.S. safety requirements.

 

We know that there is a small shift occurring, a shift that is leading certain manufacturing sectors to transfer some of their factories to countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh.

 

We need to be ready to work with these countries so that the import problems we have already experienced do not materialize again.

 

This new Office of Education, Global Outreach and Small Business Ombudsman will serve as a coordinated business unit to carry out this activity and allow CPSC to enhance its outreach at home and to the international community.

 

I would like to shift gears and talk about toxic metals, an issue that certainly has international implications for our domestic marketplace.

 

The lead requirements and the cadmium requirements that we are working on are intended to establish safeguards for the future—a future that does not expose children to these metals. As I have stated previously, all toxic metals need to come out and stay out of toys.

 

The time is right to expand our vision beyond lead and cadmium, because the CPSIA addresses more than lead and cadmium.

 

Antimony, arsenic, barium, mercury, chromium, and selenium are in our sights.

 

Like lead and cadmium, these are dangerous metals for children to be exposed to and there is no good reason to use them or allow them to be introduced into the manufacture of toys and other children’s products.

 

CPSC staff is actively engaged in scientific work aimed at putting us in a leadership role to address these dangerous metals. This is a sign of how we will address chronic hazards through our Strategic Plan.

 

We want to have sound scientific evidence before we move to the next step.

 

Just as with cadmium, the CPSIA has set requirements limiting the use of antimony, arsenic, barium, mercury, and chromium in surface coatings on toys.

 

But, let me be clear, I intend for CPSC to explore ways for the United States to go beyond surface coating requirements. We should also strive to limit children’s exposure to these metals from the substrate of toys and other children’s products.

 

I would now like to turn back to cribs and new crib rules. I believe the work we did last year and the work that we will continue to do over the next two years is a good example of what can accomplish if we adhere to the goals in the Strategic Plan.

 

Rigorous hazard identification was carried out by our technical staff and Safe Sleep team members, a decisive response was developed to work with ASTM on a revised standard that CPSC could make mandatory, and we demonstrated steady leadership in the face of demanding deadlines and lofty expectations.

 

In the end all commissions agreed to our new rule, and starting on June 28, 2011, all crib manufacturers and retailers need be in compliance with the new standards. Raising awareness now becomes a critical goal if we are to succeed in effectively implementing these rules.

 

I believe we have done well to raise awareness among parents that the rules have changed, and their babies will be able to sleep safer in the next generation of cribs. But we have too many parents who think that we simply banned traditional drop-sides, and that’s all. Through the media and social media, we are working to better define the breadth of what was changed and improved in the new standards.

 

This misunderstanding among consumers was also seen in child care centers and among state officials. We responded by initiating a strategic communications plan aimed at putting the right information into the hands of everyone impacted by the new law.

 

Child care providers, hotels, and motels are being informed that they have until December 28, 2012, to comply, but they will likely need to replace all of their cribs, not just those with traditional drop-sides.

 

We are also working with state licensing officials to make sure they are empowered with all the facts.

 

We are keeping a close eye on the market to see when new and improved cribs become available. I am hopeful that compliant cribs will be in the market before.

 

The long term goal, considering all of the time and effort we have put into crib safety, is to see next year’s annual nursery data indicate a decline in deaths and a decline in injuries. That would be wonderful.

 

The next set of juvenile products that we will be addressing with new mandatory standards—based on Section 104 of the CPSIA—are toddler beds, bassinets, swings, bed rails, and play yards.

 

We should have final rules for toddler beds and bassinets this year, and we should also have a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking approved for swings, bed rails, and play yards this year.

 

The last individual initiative that I want to talk about is the one right around the corner. Just two weeks from now we are scheduled to launch our public database.

 

The previous session touched on the legal requirements, the functionality, and our efforts to get the word out, so I won’t rehash those points.

 

I know that the many of you have serious concerns with the database, to the point of supporting a delay in its launch. I do understand your concerns, but this is one of those times where I respectfully disagree,

 

One of the reason why I am a proponent in the power of open government is the faith I have in the consumer. I believe in consumer rights, and I believe that an informed consumer is an empowered consumer.

 

Be assured that when the consumer hits the certify button on their report, I want him or her to have made every effort to provide CPSC with complete and accurate information. It is in our best interest, the manufacturer’s best interest, and the public’s best interest.

 

The pledge you have from me is that we will continue to educate consumers that their reports should be accurate and safety based. And the more detailed their report is, the more beneficial it will be to everyone.

 

Not everything about the database will be perfect every time, but let’s not make the perfect be the enemy of the good.

 

The vision I have for SaferProducts.gov is that it be a site that generates more reporting to the agency, and, as a direct result of our IT modernization overhaul, promotes greater efficiencies in how the agency processes those reports internally. I also envision the site empowering consumers to make independent decisions that further their own safety and the safety of their family.

 

If a mom uses the search function on the site, sees a series of reports of harm about a product she bought for her child, and decides to take the product away from her child, while behind the scenes we are working to finalize a recall—that is a good thing in my opinion.

 

We do not want the database to create unnecessary problems for your clients or your business. That is why we have worked so hard to follow the law and put procedures in place that allow us to work with manufacturers to address claims of material inaccuracy and confidential information.

 

We have put a good team together to design, develop, and implement the SaferProducts.gov database—and, so long as the government is open on March 11, we plan to launch it.

 

I hope many of you watched or listened to the House oversight hearing last week. I shared with the subcommittee that although I am not willing to make last minute changes to the database, I am willing to work with the Congress on other changes to the CPSIA that would give us greater flexibility.

 

I do not believe that the drop down to a total lead content limit of 100 parts per million should be applied retroactively.

 

I do not believe that compliance with the lead content standards should be required if the lead in the product serves a functional purpose, so long as it does not put the safety of a child at risk. I do not believe that lead should be in children’s products where it is practicable for it to be removed. After the year of the recalls in 2007, American consumers expect no less from the manufacturers of children’s products and the agency charged with regulating children’s products.

 

And I believe that small businesses are in need of relief from costs associated with product testing. My push for a component part testing rule is part of my commitment to small batch manufacturers, but I am also open to working with the Congress on other changes to the law.

 

My position on the CPSIA is, “Amend it, but don’t end it.”

 

The Act has really made CPSC a stronger agency; with more staff and authorities; more influence over improving safety standards; and better able to be proactive abroad, at the ports, and in the marketplace.

 

I was open last year to making certain changes to improve the Act, and I certainly remain open this year to working with the Congress and stakeholders on making those changes in the law.

 

Let me close today by breaking some news to all of you about a new program that will be launched out of my office. I am pleased to share with the ICPHSO community that starting on March 1, we will be launching the “Chairman’s Commendation Circle Award Program.”

 

I am very excited about this program, and I believe it will be another touchpoint for consumer advocates and industry to get connected with CPSC in 2011. We will have more details for you regarding the nomination process.

 

The real reason why I wanted to kick off this program is to recognize the innovators, highlight those who demonstrate a relentless commitment to product safety, and show appreciation to those who are out there saving lives and preventing injuries like we strive to do every day at the CPSC.

 

I am proud of the direction we are heading in at the agency. We are trying hard to demonstrate that we can be more agile and more capable of stepping in front of emerging hazards. These are essential elements of our Strategic Plan.

 

I believe we have the right team in place—a team willing to work in partnership with those committed to advancing product safety and a team willing to take action against those who do not believe in following the law.

 

Our small yet dedicated staff is working to forge a new regulatory approach, an approach built to establish predictability and consumer confidence, and make it last over time.

 

Being proactive and collaborative are the keys to our regulatory approach.

 

If all of us can be partners in this effort, I know that we can build upon the progress that has been made in recent years.

 

Progress that will help us reduce violative products in the marketplace.

 

Progress that will help us reduce injuries.

 

Progress that will connect more consumers with CPSC in 2011.

 

Thank you all for your time today, and please attend the rest of the sessions this afternoon to learn more about the great work being done at CPSC.

 

Mark, best of luck with your term as ICPHSO President.