Federal Government Blocks Almost 650,000 Dangerous Products at Ports in Fourth Quarter 2011

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256px-US-ConsumerProductSafetyCommission-Seal.svgThe U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently announced that its port investigators identified and blocked around 650,000 units of products deemed dangerous or in violation of U.S. safety standards. Investigators reportedly screened over 2,900 shipments arriving at U.S. ports during the period from October 1 to December 31, 2011. They blocked about 240 different products identified as noncompliant with safety standards, preventing them from reaching consumers and possibly causing injury.

The CPSC is an independent federal government agency created by the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972. Its mission is to guard the public “against unreasonable risks of injuries associated with consumer products.” It has authority to issue regulations regarding the sale of a wide range of consumer products. The only products not subject to its jurisdiction are ones put under the authority of a different agency by a specific statute. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has authority to regulate automobiles, and the Food and Drug Administration has authority over pharmaceutical and most food products. The CPSC can ban products it deems dangerous, and it can compel recalls of dangerous products already in the market.

The CPSC has several programs that enable it to collect data about products in the U.S. market. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System collects data from a set of hospitals on injuries related to consumer products, then analyzes the data to create estimates the agency can use nationally. SaferProducts.gov, a website operated by the CPSC, allows consumers to report unsafe products online.

The list of products blocked by the CPSC at the end of 2011 is dominated by children’s products, which comprised eighty-two percent of the total number of units stopped. Of the children’s products blocked at ports of entry, the CPC found that they were dangerous or violative in six main ways:

– 47% contained lead or lead-based paint;
– 18% contained small parts not appropriate for children;
– 15% contained phthalates, a plastic product found to have serious health effects;
– 8% had tracking labels that were incorrect or non-compliant;
– 4% included art materials prohibited in children’s products; and
– 2% contained incorrectly-branded toys.

The remaining six percent included products with sharp points, chemical hazards, heavily-regulated baby products, and toys requiring batteries that did not meet safety standards. Most of the products blocked by the CPSC originated in China, with some coming from Mexico and Japan.