Newsmakers Address - Thursday, August 9, 2012, National Press Club, Washington, D.C.

agosto 09, 2012

Thank you Jamila [Bey] for that kind introduction, and thank you to the National Press Club and the Newsmakers Committee for allowing me the opportunity to speak this morning.

 

It is good to see a number of familiar faces among the press corps, and it is good to see members of the media who are covering CPSC for the first time.

 

Since this is the Newsmakers forum, let me start with some breaking news from my agency.

 

This morning, CPSC is announcing that about 1.3 million General Electric dishwashers are being recalled due to a fire hazard.

 

This is an important recall. There have been 15 reports of the heating element in the dishwashers failing, causing seven fires, three of which led to extensive property damage.

 

Fortunately, there have been no injuries, but we need consumers to respond to this recall right away.

 

The recall involves well known models like the GE Profile, Hotpoint, and other models that were sold between March 2006 and April 2009.

 

My message to consumers is to immediately stop using these recalled dishwashers and disconnect the power supply to the unit.

 

Consumers have a choice of a free, in-home repair or a rebate toward a new dishwasher.

 

There is one other news items that I want to mention before I get to the main topic of today’s forum.

 

Even though I am charged with running a federal regulatory agency, I do not believe all problems are best solved only by regulations. One such area is concussions in sports, particularly football.

 

I would like to share with you the work we have been doing at CPSC that led to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and me joining forces at a youth football safety event last weekend.

 

Because of some impactful reporting by the New York Times, my staff and I set out to see what contributions CPSC could make toward reducing the risk of concussions and other brain injuries in football, especially at the youth level.

 

We have been working in strong collaborative fashion with all of the major football organizations—from the NFL on down to the major helmet manufacturers, the helmet reconditioners, the voluntary standards body, and even our sister agency, the CDC.

 

This joint effort has been bearing fruit in a number of ways. For the long term, we have been working to focus and accelerate brain injury and helmet research efforts.

 

We hope this will lead to a better understanding of the specific causes of concussions, as well as the role and limitations of helmets in preventing these often devastating injuries.

 

Even without those answers yet, we know enough to say there is no such thing as a concussion-proof-helmet. But that does not mean research can’t point the way to safer products.

 

We are doing more than just pushing on the research side. We feel an urgency for more immediate safety results.

 

One of those safety results is now visible on the back of many football helmets for sale. I was very pleased earlier this year when most of the major helmet manufacturers agreed to my request that they place in essence a “Born On” date and a “Don’t Use Any Later Than” date on the backs of their football helmets—in a very visible manner.

 

Our own inquiries showed that far too many children are very likely wearing football helmets that are not being properly cared for and, combined with their age, should be taken out of service for good.

 

At this point, even in the absence of hard science or known injuries numbers, I am very uncomfortable with what using poorly maintained, older helmets may mean for children.

 

Based on everything we have learned, I believe it very unlikely that an older, poorly maintained football helmet manages the different types of forces at play on a football field as well as newer, properly maintained models do.

 

And until we know more on the scientific front, I see no downside to an approach that leads to less energy and possible trauma to the brain. This simple, yet informative label is a very clear reminder for parents, coaches and players, that helmets not only require care and maintenance, but also that they don’t last forever.

 

These new labels are a great step forward in the name of safety. But, they do not address that fact that too many kids are still using old, poorly maintained helmets.

 

This serious concern brought my staff and me to the door of the leadership of the National Football League. Who better to lead a football safety effort than the leaders of the sport itself.

 

We presented our deep concerns to them about the state of helmets, especially at the youth level, as well as the dire need for an acceleration of the safety culture change in the sport.

 

These discussions, which also ended up including the other football-related organizations that we had brought to the table, resulted in an unprecedented public-private collaboration.

 

The core element is a program designed to assist economically-disadvantaged youth football programs to trade out older, poorly maintained helmets for new ones.

 

But here’s the key – and it was my one absolute requirement: No program would receive its new helmets without going through a robust education effort aimed at accelerating a vital safety culture change.

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and I kicked off this safer play initiative with more than 100 youth football players in Akron, Ohio this past weekend, just hours before the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

 

And while newer, properly maintained football helmets are important, the real game-changer is learning how to play the game and use those helmets properly.

 

Smarter play is safer play.

 

Parent, coaches and players will be smarter about the game, and kids will be safer playing football because of this historic collaboration.

 

I would now like to focus on the theme of today’s forum and that is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act— generally referred to as the “CPSIA.”

 

The CPSIA is a landmark piece of legislation that was signed into law in 2008 and revitalized the CPSC.

 

Next Tuesday will mark the fourth anniversary of the CPSIA being in effect and I want to talk about how this child safety law has dramatically changed and improved the U.S. marketplace.

 

Let’s start with some names: Jarnell Brown, Kenny Sweet, Liam Johns, Danny Keysar, and Bobby Cirigliano.

 

These were all children who were taken too soon, as result of swallowing jewelry with high levels of lead, swallowing powerful magnets that had fallen out of children’s toys, or being entrapped in cribs and play yards that were deadly.

 

These were products made in China, but they were made with dangerous materials and dangerous designs.

 

They were not made to meet the best safety standards, they were not properly tested, they were not caught at import, and they were not recalled in time to prevent tragedies.

 

Simply put: the global product safety system in 2007 and 2008 did not protect the safety of children, and Congress stepped in to change the system by passing the most comprehensive consumer product safety legislation in decades.

 

The passage by Congress of the CPSIA was a game-changer. And CPSC’s implementation of the law in recent years has created one of the strongest product safety systems in the world.

 

To explain how we created a stronger safety net and safety system, I often refer to our consumer protection triangle. The three points of the triangle are:

 

education and prevention,

standards and rules, and

enforcement.

 

I want to start with the new standards and rules that the CPSIA mandated to advance product safety.

 

Since 2008, we have approved 41 final rules and nearly 100 notices to industry—all Congressionally mandated.

 

When you consider that agency has historically averaged 3 ½ years to complete a rulemaking, you can come to understand that CPSC staff has been working at a furious pace to protect consumers in recent years.

 

Some of the key safety rules we created include:

 

Cribs—the U.S. now has the strongest cribs standard in the world.

 

Play yards—we worked with [the voluntary standards organization] ASTM to create a play yard standard that we can enforce—which removes the hazard that strangled Danny Keysar for whom the law was named that created mandatory standards for durable nursery equipment.

Stronger lead limits—total lead content limit of 100 parts per million and total lead paint limit of 90 parts per million—one of the strongest lead standards in the world for children’s products.

 

Phthalates limits—Congress banned three permanently, banned three temporarily. Mandated that a Chronic Hazardous Advisory Panel be named to study these three and others to determine if they should be banned.

F963 becoming a mandatory toy standard—was a voluntary standard developed by the ASTM. It is now mandatory, which means that the CPSC can enforce it.

 

Tracking labels—for all children’s products, so that they can be traced up the supply chain.

 

Independent, third party testing—required by domestic manufacturers and importers for all children’s products; a key safeguard parents and consumers called for.

 

Parents of children who were killed by products that were defective or dangerous wished these rules were in place years ago. And parents who were once unsure of the safety of the marketplace now have greater confidence that stronger standards and independent testing are in place for children’s products.

 

I am proud to say that the majority of CPSIA rules have been proposed and approved.

 

The only remaining rules to be completed under the CPSIA are durable nursery equipment. In the years leading up to the passage of the CPSIA, there were numerous instances of injuries and deaths of infants and small children in defective durable infant and toddler products.

 

As a result, Congress put in the final version of the CPSIA, section 104, which requires mandatory safety standards for most infant and toddler products.

 

When I assumed the Chairmanship of the Commission, in the summer of 2009, there were no mandatory safety standards for any of these products.

 

Since then I have moved to implement this mandate as quickly as possible.

 

We have completed rules on cribs, bath seats, walkers, toddler beds, bed rails for children, and play yards.

 

In the works this year are the standards for bassinets and cradles, strollers, and infant carriers.

 

These are standards that, once in place, will save even more lives.

 

Now, I want to turn to enforcement.

 

From day one, when I became Chairman, I said that I would be a fair, but firm, enforcer of the law.

 

Companies that comply with the CPSIA, report incidents or injuries to the agency in a timely manner, and work cooperatively with the agency when a product needs to be recalled, are treated fairly by the agency.

 

The majority of industries and companies that we deal with has studied the requirements of the CPSIA and want to comply with the law and keep their customers safe.

 

But, when companies import toys with violative amounts of lead or choking hazards, we have more systems in place to catch them and hold them accountable.

 

When companies knowingly sell products that present a substantial product hazard and have caused injuries, we are going to hold them accountable for failing to tell us in a timely manner.

 

We are working to become more proactive with our enforcement activities in recent years. One of the best examples of this proactive approach is our port surveillance program.

 

The best way to protect American consumers is to ensure that violative products never enter this country in the first place.

 

CPSIA strengthened our authorities at the ports.

 

CPSC works hand in hand with CBP.

 

CPSC has 20 full-time staff located at 15 major U.S. ports, along with 30 other employees who support their mission through testing and analysis activities.

 

We now have access to near real-time data on incoming shipments from CBP.

 

We are currently testing a pilot program of the Risk Assessment Methodology targeting system, which will allow us to more effectively target dangerous or violative shipments of consumer products.

 

We now make public the names of the foreign manufacturers and importers of violative products that we seize every quarter.

 

During 2011, the CPSC Office of Import Surveillance screened nearly 10,000 products at the ports, collected almost 1,800 samples, and found over 1,100 violations of safety standards. As a result, the CPSC staff was able to stop approximately 4.5 million units of violative or hazardous consumer products from entering the United States. The most stopped products are children’s products for violations relating to lead limits, flammability, and small parts, which could present a choking hazard.

 

So far in 2012, we have stopped more than 1,000,000 units of violative or hazardous ported products.

 

Success stories:

 

Investigators in Detroit targeted and examined a shipment of toys. There were numerous violations and the shipment was seized. Two months later, a second shipment from the same importer was targeted and examined, and was found to contain violative toys that were seized.

Investigators in San Francisco targeted and examined a shipment of hair dryers. The hair dryers were seized by CBP because they did not have a required shock protection system.

 

CPSC investigators in Newark identified a shipment of cigarette lighters from a company that has the proper paperwork on file as required by law. The shipment was turned back and exported from the U.S.

 

CPSC investigators are standing shoulder to shoulder with Customs and Border Protection agents and working to prevent defective and violative products from ever reaching store shelves and the hands of consumers.

Another example of how we have been proactive with our enforcement activities can be seen in our efforts to address cadmium in children’s products.

 

We were determined to make sure cadmium was not the next lead.

I warned Asian regulators and manufacturers in a Hong Kong speech in January 2010.

 

The Chinese government sent out a directive to Chinese manufacturers weeks later using similar language as our warning about substituting cadmium in place of lead.

 

Five recalls of metal jewelry due to high levels of cadmium were conducted in 2010.

 

No recalls in 2011 or 2012, so far.

 

CPSC caught and turned back shipments of violative jewelry because of excessive cadmium at the port.

 

Staff conducted a nationwide jewelry sweep of big and small retail stores in 2011, as part of our general compliance program.

711 pieces of jewelry were screened using our XRF analyzer.

 

Only a handful of pieces of jewelry had a violative level of cadmium. Those pieces were not children’s products, were old inventory, or CPSC staff bought out the remaining inventory in the store.

 

The CPSIA created mandatory limits on cadmium and other toxic metals in surface coatings on toys.

 

CPSC recognized that limits were needed for cadmium and other toxic metals inside and on the outside of children’s jewelry and inside of toys.

 

We worked cooperatively with the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association, Toys Industry Association, and ASTM to craft child-protective standards for jewelry and toys.

 

Our proactive approach has been a team effort across multiple divisions of the agency—and it has worked.

 

Final part of enforcement that I want to talk about are civil penalties.

 

CPSIA raised the maximum penalty levels to $100,000 per violation or $15 million total.

 

Penalties are a deterrent and are typically imposed after a recall is in effect. We work to protect the consumer first and then hold the company accountable afterwards.

 

Two weeks ago, Burlington Coat Factory agreed to pay a $1,500,000 penalty for failing to report dangerous drawstrings in children’s upper outerwear. CPSC staff also alleged that company sold garments after they had been recalled.

 

The penalty is the highest that CPSC has ever assessed for violations involving children's upper outerwear with drawstrings.

Other notable penalties this fiscal year include a $1,300,000 penalty against Spin Master for failing to report Aqua Dots and for selling a banned hazardous substance.

 

And Henry Gordy agreed to pay a $1,100,000 penalty for failing to report children’s toy dart gun sets that were involved in multiple fatalities.

 

Another enforcement action that has been in the news lately is the administrative complaints that CPSC staff filed against Maxfield and Oberton and Zen Magnets. These two complaints follow the statutory process outlined for us to follow to make a determination that a product presents a substantial product hazard.

 

In addition, the staff sent the Commissioners and me a briefing package yesterday recommending that the agency start rulemaking to address safety concerns with all rare earth magnetic products.

 

Later this afternoon, the staff will present their findings and recommendations to the Commission.

 

The final point on the consumer protection triangle is education and outreach.

 

I believe in predictability for industry and that government has a responsibility to help companies, big and small, understand the rules they must follow.

 

To effectively implement the CPSIA, I believed it was incumbent upon CPSC to work directly with affected industries. Thus, I created the Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman

Through this office, we have rewritten our online content in “plain English” so regulations are more easily understandable.

 

Staff has conducted eight webinars, two teleconferences, and reached 87,000 small and medium size businesses.

 

The first ever “CPSC Safety Academy” is scheduled for September 20 and we have asked our counterparts in Beijing to participate.

On the international front, we have conducted 43 industry sessions totaling over 18,000 Chinese manufacturing professionals. Also conducted 27 sessions for government staff.

 

This approach is in keeping with my philosophy of “taking safety to the source” and building safety into products. Building safety into products means understanding and complying with all of the CPSIA requirements and other applicable safety rules in the United States.

 

Another key CPSIA mandate that has helped advance consumer education is the creation of the SaferProducts.gov public database of incident reports.

 

Creating this website was the biggest open government project of my tenure so far.

 

SaferProducts.gov went live in March 2011.

 

This is a valuable database for consumers, industry, the media, and

CPSC.

 

Consumers can use SaferProducts.gov to search for incident reports involving a product they own or are thinking of buying. They can also use the site to file a report of harm or potential harm with the government.

 

We screen all reports and share them with the named manufacturer, so they have a chance to file a claim of material inaccuracy, claim of confidential business information, or have a response posted alongside of the consumer’s report.

 

We are getting close to having 10,000 incident reports on SaferProducts.gov. It’s so important for the public to know and use this site.

 

Some of the reports have contributed to product recalls and other reports include company response explaining why they believe their product is safe.

 

We are even using the site to give manufacturers and retailers an easier online portal to report hazardous products to the agency.

I believe SaferProducts.gov is doing the job of informing consumers in a way that is empowering them. I also believe the site is helping to make CPSC be more accessible to the public and letting the sun shine in.

 

We will continue to work on integrating the data from SaferProducts.gov with all of our other systems, so that we can connect the dots faster in finding emerging hazards.

 

I hope that all of you will check out the website.

 

A new idea that we have come up with, to increase public awareness of who we are and what we do at CPSC, is the creation of a new logo.

 

As we near the 40 year anniversary of the Consumer Product Safety Act, we felt that it was time to establish a new logo, which is being displayed for the first time today.

 

We have been working hard during my tenure as Chairman to make CPSC a more modern and accessible agency.

 

Our seal has often been considered dated and confusing, so we developed a new symbol for our agency.

 

The new CPSC logo reflects the agency’s unique brand.

 

It reflects the global aspects of our mission—a mission to be the global leader in consumer product safety.

 

The QR code in the logo is quite unique.

 

It represents the technological advancement of the agency and is an interactive window for consumers to link to our website and receive more safety information.

 

The QR code could also be used to link consumers to videos, free publications, and online resources.

 

I’m excited about the new logo and hope that it will help more consumers get to know CPSC and connect with CPSC.

 

In closing, I believe that because of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and all of CPSC’s accomplishments, I can say with confidence that the state of product safety is strong—and it is built to last.

 

I believe we at CPSC are making a strong contribution to the state of product safety around the world.

 

We are using our strength not for short-term gains, but to create a sustainable product safety system.

 

A system built to last.

A system built to last through compliance with the stringent safety and testing requirements established by the CPSIA.

A system built to last by creating a regulatory approach that strives for injury prevention rather than reaction.

 

A system built to last for which future generations will thank us.

 

Again, I want to thank the National Press Club for providing me with a chance to speak this morning and now I will be happy to answer questions from the press.