CPSC Chair in Seattle: Much progress made but more funding needed

"The word is out," said Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Inez Tenenbaum. "The CPSC of today is not the CPSC of ten years ago."

Tenenbaum was in Seattle this week to help make sure businesses involved with the manufacture, distribution, testing and sales of consumer products understand federal product safety rules. She said thanks to new rules established during her tenure, and partnership at our ports and borders, safety enforcement is tougher, and faster now. The number of dangerous imports stopped at U.S. ports last year surpassed four million.

But, as the Problem Solvers regularly show you, millions more problem products are discovered after they get on store shelves and we buy them. The problems that lead to recalls are not always due to banned chemicals, lead, and toxic materials.

Often, it's a matter of defective parts, defective materials or a problem with the design. The latest examples is the 14,000 Frigidaire blenders recalled September 19 because the blade shaft assembly can break.

I showed you last week how more than two million dehumidifiers are being recalled after reports of 46 fires and more than $2 Million in property damage. Many, but not all, recalled products are manufactured in China. So I asked Tenenbaum what many of you ask me:

"Why don't we start banning products coming from China?" I asked. "Because China's not getting it."

"China Does get it,", Tenenbaum quickly replied. "China wants us to buy their products, because we are one of the number one consumer countries that support products being manufactured in China. And people need to understand that a lot of American manufacturers manufacture in China."

"Now, we're always happy to see that some of those manufacturers are now coming home and beginning to open up new plants of manufacturing in the United States, and I hope that continues. But we have spent a lot of time with the Chinese government, and they understand our rules," Tenenbaum continued.

The CPSC says manufacturers in China and other foreign countries are coming around but it's a big job.

"China's a large country, Indonesia's a large place. We need more resources to do this, and we need partnerships," said Tenenbaum.

The product safety chief says American manufacturers are not off the hook. Her staff continually monitors complaints and works with industries to catch and address potential safety problems. A major target right now: laundry detergent pods. Some packaging looks like candy. Kids are eating them and ending up in the hospital. But with a nudge from the Commission and concerned consumers, the industry is working on new standards to make the packaging more opaque and less attractive to children.

"It's very significant that through our works with the industry, they are now willing to talk about a standard," Tenenbaum said.

Another major target in the toy safety arena is the problem with super strong, small magnets used in many toys. Children ingesting magnets have suffered severe, often life-threatening injuries when the magnets attach inside the intestines and require surgery to remove the obstruction. Tenenbaum could not comment on that case, because it's in litigation.

Tenenbaum says the Commission does see more and more companies that want to comply with US safety rules, but there are still people who try to circumvent the system.

She also had a warning about buying ultra cheap products like many of us do for Halloween, Christmas and other holidays. She would not be specific about retail outlets, and with the exception of super cheap electrical products that often have counterfeit UL safety labels, she would not specify products. However, Tenenbaum says consumers should continue to be diligent with very cheap imported toys and household products because some may violate safety standards and even be dangerous.

That's why I always urge you to check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website regularly for recalls, and report problem products on the special website