Buried in last week's back pages was an announcement by Wal-Mart that it has once again flooded the American market with lead-poisoning toys from China. This time, it was lead dinosaurs.
Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced that it was recalling over 60,000 baby bibs tainted with lead. That's right, those little things wrapped around babies necks that you always see them sucking on.
Wal-Mart alone has had to recall over 60 products recently, including cough medicine for kids, teether books for tots, cribs that resulted in infant deaths, defective car seats, and atleast a half-dozen lead-poisoned toys.
Of course, Wal-Mart isn't the only corporate culprit, just the biggest. Major recalls have been issued in 2007 for poisoned dog food, toothpaste made with anti-freeze, and more lead-painted toys from China than I can count.
All of these announcements have created severe recall fatigue for the press and the public.
They also create a big hurdle for the Illinois Civil Justice League, which is calling for restoring immunity to big corporations under the Wrongful Death Act for grief, sorrow and mental suffering in wrongful death cases.
The flood of recalls also creates a great issue for Congressional candidates running in the hotly-contested open seat races in Illinois and across the state.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, charged with protecting us all, has come under fire from many sides. So much fire in fact, that this week the director of this "toothless tiger" asked Congress to expand the scope of her agency, making it illegal to sell recalled products and giving customs the authority to seize products that don't meet voluntary industry standards.
The second is a big one, because industry often argues that it can "police itself," and sets up industry standards in lieu of mandatory federal standards. Then of course, they ignore them.
This makes a great issue for Congressional challengers in Democratic primaries and against Republican incumbents, because Congress is under fire for slashing funding for the CPSC over the last three decades. Also, attacking cheap foreign imports capitalizes on people's economic worries about job losses overseas.
This week, USA TODAY'S Editorial page wrote:
Our view on consumer protection: Unsafe products overwhelm emaciated safety agency
Stripped of staff and authority, CPSC struggles to keep up.What links the cases is not just dangerous products and companies that did not move to quickly recall them, but the tragically ineffective response of the government agency responsible for acting when companies do not: the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Begun in 1973 in a wave of consumer protectionism, the commission is overwhelmed and understaffed. It investigates barely 10%-15% of the reports it gets of product-related deaths and injuries. Its staff has shrunk to about 400, from a peak of 978 in 1980. The huge recalls of lead-tainted toys from China this year revealed that the agency's primary full-time, small-parts toy tester is a guy named Bob.
There's plenty of blame to go around for CPSC's deterioration. A succession of presidents and Congresses, hostile to the burden the commission can place on business, have limited its power and budget. The results can be tragic.
What, if anything, do you think Illinois can be doing?
Here's some of my ideas:
- Set up an e-mail alert system for parents through the Attorney General's Office to share information of product recalls.
- Require retailers to post notices on their entrances for all product recalls of anything that was on their shelves in the last six months.
- Expand Illinois definition of joint liability to hold retailers more accountable for deadly products imported from overseas.