Fight Brewing in Congress over Database on Product Hazards

After a year in which tens of millions of toys were recalled from store shelves across America, consumers have decided they want greater access to information about hazardous products—and they want it now. 

That pressure from consumer groups, children’s safety organizations, and concerned parents has prompted Congress to hold hearings this month on proposed legislation that would overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and establish a searchable online consumer database of hazardous product information.

If passed into law, the Senate-passed bill, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act of 2008, would:

•    Boost CPSC’s funding by $25 million over 2 years
•    Ban lead in children’s products and make it illegal for any retailer to sell a recalled product
•    Authorize $1 million to research the safety of nanotechnology in products
•    Establish a database to include any reports of injuries, illness, death, or risk related to consumer products submitted by consumers, government agencies, child care providers, medical staff, coroners, and the media
•    Raise the cap on civil fines from the current $1.8 million to $20 million

Not surprisingly, many manufacturers aren’t exactly wild about the idea of consumers getting together online to compare notes about the potential hazards of their products. 

Many lobbyists for manufacturing groups vigorously oppose the Senate’s CPSC legislation, introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), containing the consumer database provision. The Bush Administration and other critics charge that the online consumer database could unfairly or inaccurately portray manufacturers’ products, but President Bush has stopped short of promising a veto of the Senate bill. 

Instead, manufacturing groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers  support an alternative plan called the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act, passed by the House in December. The House proposal would boost the agency’s funding and staffing, but doesn’t go so far as to create an online database for consumers to share their experiences with products that have the potential to injure or kill. 

The two bills’ differences will need to be reconciled by the Senate and House before the legislation can be passed and signed into law. 

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