Archive for April, 2012

A Draining Exercise

If you’ve been paying attention to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you surely noticed that we’ve been doing a lot about pools. Pool drains and their covers, to be specific.

A quick recap: in spring 2010, we interpreted the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act to allow public pool operators to comply with the law by putting an unblockable drain cover over a single main drain. But we reversed ourselves last fall over my strenuous objection that we weren’t following our own rules or federal law, and that the safety effects of the reversal were not backed up by any staff analysis (read more about it here, here, here, and here). In one small concession to responsible pool owners who relied on our interpretation, all of my colleagues joined me in voting to ask the public for comments about the effective date of the reversal.

Well, we got comments. And the vast majority of them said that the reversal was wrong and would be expensive to implement. Based on those comments, the staff recommended that we extend the compliance date by a year for pool operators who relied on the first interpretation. The Commission agreed with the staff (by a vote of 3 to 1), so responsible pool operators get at least a little respite from our haphazard regulations. I wish we hadn’t put them in such an awkward position in the first place. I hope the message gets out to them, especially since this extension happened less than two months before the effective date. In a better world, it would pay to be a conscientious planner.

You can learn more about this by reading my official statement on the vote here.

Exposing Exposure For What It Is

Last Friday the Commission unanimously reached an important, eminently practical, and pretty obvious decision: there are children’s products that have more than 100 parts per million (ppm) of lead that should be allowed to be sold. That’s because removing lead at that trace level is not really feasible and that trace amount of lead will not cause a safety risk to a child.

That’s a lot to say, but it says a lot.

Although last summer the agency said there was no technological reason not to impose a 100 ppm lead-content limit on children’s products, thanks to Public Law 112-28 (also known as H.R. 2715), we now have found a way to provide realistic exceptions to that rule. Why? Because in that law Congress emphasized that exposure to lead, not just the mere presence, is the key to determining the true risk of harm. If reducing lead content is not practicable or technologically feasible, if the product isn’t likely to be mouthed, and if using the product won’t measurably increase blood lead levels, then the product can be over 100 ppm—and be okay. There’s no health risk.

There are other components of children’s products, beyond those dealt with in the petition spurring this decision, which may similarly qualify. I hope the Commission continues to use this reasonable approach, albeit long overdue.

Looking For Common Ground

After a long period during which the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued rule after rule on three-to-two, party-line votes with much acrimony and little compromise, we faced a new reality this past fall when a vacancy left the Commission equally divided. At the time I wrote about this brave new era: “[A]ny action will [now] require bi-partisan support. . . . If we can build [a] bridge and restore an atmosphere of collegiality and trust, I’m confident we can find enough common ground to allow the CPSC to effectively carry out its mission.”

I’m pleased that on one significant issue voted on last week–the fiscal year 2012 operating plan– collaboration occurred and, as a result, consensus was reached. (I would note that the fiscal year began October 1, 2011 so this operating plan is six months delayed. I hope we can agree on the next one at the beginning of the fiscal year.) After much discussion among Commissioners and their staffs, the end result was a plan that we all agreed on. I hope that this new willingness of both sides to look for common ground and work together continues.

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