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September 16, 2007

Testing Agency Head Under Fire; Senate Committee Asks: Is it Safe?

By Deborah Newell Tornello
aka litbrit

Lawmakers, including the tenacious Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill), grill Nancy Nord (of the Consumer Product Safety Commission), demanding to know why lead-laden children's toys and jewelry are still arriving in the United States.

Sen. Dick. Durbin (D-Ill.) charged that the CPSC was not aggressive enough in stopping unsafe toys and children's jewelry manufactured in China from entering the U.S.

He said the agency never obtained information on shipments of the Chinese products so that it could inspect to see whether many of the products had lead paint in them.

Weboy was none too impressed; the background information he provides about Nancy Nord neatly replicates what has become an all-too-common story arc (hell, for many Bush appointees, it's a career template):

Well, Nancy Nord is the Acting Head of the CPSC because the head of the CPSC resigned rather abruptly (last) summer, and Bush has done nothing to replace him (the CPSC has a three person directorate; with the party of the President essentially controlling the majority) since March, when he tried to appoint the former head of The National Association of Manufacturers (you know, people who might not like the CPSC) in his place. And why did the last guy resign, you ask?  Oh, you know... to go work for a law firm that advises clients on how to... you know, avoid having to deal with the CPSC.


Yes, it would seem that Consumer Product Safety is yet another area like... oh, I don't know, let's say FEMA... where the Bush Administration has allowed benign neglect to substitute for policy.  Bush has appointed, er, cronies, to this commission (see #9 of the last link), good Republican doo-bees, and now here's Nancy Nord to tell us, Gosh, the CPSC is underfunded. Now there's a surprise.

During testimony Nord admits, disturbingly, that despite harsh criticisms of Chinese toy manufacturers and calls for crackdowns in 2004, a "significant amount" of children's jewelry the agency tested still contains lead, amending that, shortly thereafter, to "almost all of it". She also describes the testing facility as a 1950's-era missile testing site in Gaithersburg, Maryland, some of the buildings of which do not even meet code. Nord goes on to report how their lone product tester, a man named Bob, is overwhelmed (imagine that!) and can't reasonably be expected to test the countless thousands of toys and other products coming into the country every day.

This is a still shot of the toy testing facility, the place where Bob ("Our small parts guy") decides if toys--the ones he gets to that day, anyway--are safe enough for Americas consumers and children. Yes, this is really the toy lab, as presented to the Senate Wednesday:

The United States of America's Consumer Product Safety Commission,
Toy Testing Division
(as shown behind the senators' chairs)

Honestly, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Certainly, this is nothing new, this underfunding and undermining of a United States government agency tasked with protecting the public.  As I wrote about extensively this year, the FDA has been similarly hamstrung by the Bush administration, and despite the shocking revelation that less than 1% of food imports arriving Stateside are even being inspected at all, the agency is quietly closing labs around the country and cutting staff. Furthermore, in a classic Bushian hand-off of henhouse keys to Big Pharma fox, the FDA has shifted much of its drug-testing function (in exchange for drug-testing funding) to the drug companies themselves.

Perhaps Grover Norquist wouldn't have been so quick to fill his bathtub if he'd known it was coated with lead.

Published in part Thursday at my place.

(H/T the priceless petulant)

September 16, 2007 in Government | Permalink


But Deborah,

China is our BFF. Erin Burnett told me and she's on the television and she's purty. (Like someone stuffed John Stossel's brain -- make the leap here -- into a cheerleader's body.)

Also, if we insisted on no lead paint in our toys, we might have to pay more for our cheap crap. To the point where we might actually be able to manufacture things here in America. And we wouldn't want that.

Finally, no wonder Bob is demoralized. Not only is he the proverbial one man band, but he is also known as the "small parts guy." This is just not the kind of nom de guerre that any man is actively seeking out.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut | Sep 16, 2007 10:08:36 AM

this must be causing havoc in the north pole.
barely three months to go, and mrs. claus is busy helping the elves set up toy testing labs and giving serum lead level tests to all of the busy painter~elves.
....rudolph and the other reindeer are morose in the stables, wondering if there will be any toys to deliver to all of the boys and girls this christmas.

Posted by: jacqueline | Sep 16, 2007 10:09:08 AM

KTLN: Astute observation, sir. Not being in possession of such parts, I failed to consider the additional sting that name might bring to bear. Yeow.

jacqueline, your vignette is closer to the truth than most grownup Santa-deniers would care to admit. And not only will there be a time-crunch, what with getting all the toys tested and shipped in time, but also (big surprise) a significant price hike--expect to pay an average of 10% more for toys this holiday season.

Posted by: litbrit | Sep 16, 2007 10:28:42 AM

Perhaps Grover Norquist wouldn't have been so quick to fill his bathtub if he'd known it was coated with lead.

Why would he? I don't think Norquist has any children, does he? So why should he care if some kids who aren't his get lead poisoning? Clearly, their parents should have hired a lab themselves and tested each of their children's toys individually.

Norquist knew exactly what he was advocating for when he made his "drown them in the bathtub" remark. He doesn't care about people dying or getting brain damage or anything like that - as long as his taxes go down.

Posted by: NonyNony | Sep 16, 2007 10:46:02 AM

The whole S. Claus operation is on thin ice at present. Things will obviously be better come December but right now the arctic ice cap is at the lowest level since records began. Things are getting a bit slippery up there.

Posted by: no relation to paris hilton | Sep 16, 2007 10:49:09 AM

i hope that bob, the toytester, has a good medical plan, for his final nervous breakdown.

poor man,
what must he dream about after a hard day at the toxic toyshop...
thousands of laughing, red elmo puppets glowing with heavy metals, chasing him down the streets of gaithersburg.

Posted by: jacqueline | Sep 16, 2007 11:31:37 AM

christmas, 2007

back will be the days of dads in the basement in november, building toy wagons, tiny rocking chairs and dollhouses...
and moms sewing (100% cotton) sock puppets and monkey dolls for christmas!!!!

Posted by: jacqueline | Sep 16, 2007 12:10:09 PM

And people wonder why the videogame market is booming. Great stocking stuffers and they come in designer colors.
Oh and if you think that the untested toys are bad, what about all the furniture that is painted and untested? Is darling chewing on the bedrail at teething time? Time to get out the household lead tester.

Posted by: Hawise | Sep 16, 2007 2:32:47 PM

Well this is as good at time as any to shout Buy American


American toy manufacturers are going to *clean up* this Christmas. I've already sent the link on behalf of my son to his grandparents. I would not want to be a Mattel exec this year. Any beats on how long till "Certified Lead Free" labels appear, if they haven't already?

Posted by: emjaybee | Sep 16, 2007 6:23:03 PM

"beats" = "bets". Sorry.

Posted by: emjaybee | Sep 16, 2007 6:23:45 PM

"beats" = "bets". Sorry.

Posted by: emjaybee | Sep 16, 2007 6:29:59 PM

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