Thursday, September 13, 2007

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

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.

(H/T the priceless petulant)

Also at Shakesville.

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