By Genna Reed, Union of Concerned Scientists
I’m a self-proclaimed transparency nut. But now that I’m a mom, my need for information has grown exponentially. I want a label on baby food that tells me how much added sugar is in it. I want to know whether my daughter’s car seat or mattress contains organohalogen flame retardants. And I certainly want to know whether the stroller I’m using to cross busy DC streets is safe. But apparently that last bit is none of my business and that’s okay with some federal regulators who care more about acquiescing to industry wishes than keeping kids safe.
President Trump’s CPSC turns child safety into a partisan issue
The Washington Post recently reported that despite the evidence and staff scientists’ opinions that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) should recall a jogging stroller shown to result in injuries to children (and their parents), the commission worked with the company, Britax, to avoid the measure. From 2012 to 2018, over 200 documented injuries came to CPSC by way of its reporting mechanism, saferproducts.gov, leading agency staff scientists to pursue an investigation that lasted nearly a year. The agency’s health sciences division found that children could suffer “potentially life-threatening injuries” from the common issue of front-wheel detachment. CPSC staff ran engineering tests, put together injury reports, and pored over epidemiological data, eventually starting the recall process by issuing a preliminary determination that the front wheel of the stroller was a “substantial product hazard.”
But right as this was happening, a transition was occurring at the agency from a Democratic to a Republican chair and majority of the 5-member commission. President Trump named Ann Marine Buerkle acting chair of the CPSC and she awaits Senate confirmation for the position. Buerkle was appointed to the CPSC by President Obama in 2013 and has a history of siding with companies peddling unsafe products. According to sources within the agency, she kept information on the ongoing investigation from the Democratic commissioners long enough that key decisions about the potential recall would happen as more Republican commissioners were appointed, including Dana Baiocco and Peter Feldman.
When it came time to vote on the settlement with Britax, the two minority commissioners wrote a dissent that called it “aggressively misleading” to consumers. The company got off the hook by promising to initiate a public-safety campaign and offer replacement parts to customers. But the cherry on top of this story is that the replacement parts that Britax sent to customers to deal with the strollers in question were also defective. Not only did the company achieve getting out of the hassle of a recall but they have since maintained that there was no defect in the product and have accused those parents reporting injuries of using the product wrong. I mean, come on! This is exactly why the strollers should have gone through the full recall process to begin with.
Further, the value of a child’s life should not be decided based on political affiliation. Republicans and Democrats alike should be able to band together to hold companies accountable to keep our kids safe, not align with the companies who seem to care more about playing the blame game than engineering safe products.
The value of consumer product regulation
There is nothing in this world that I want protected more than my daughter’s life. That’s why I value the mission of the CPSC and the work that has been done to help improve the safety of consumer products since its inception. Last year, UCS wished the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act a happy 10 year anniversary. This regulation addressed a long list of issues with product safety and transparency and gave the agency the power it needed to enforce provisions to keep us safe. We’ve come so far in getting rid of paint in children’s toys, requiring a set of standards for crib and other child furniture manufacturers, and in making it easier for consumers to share their experiences with the agency directly. It’s a relief to know that there’s a government agency that is holding companies accountable for the safety of the products they put on the market and that we buy for ourselves and our children. It’s one less thing for parents to worry about.
That’s part of why it’s so infuriating to see how CPSC commissioners with agendas have thwarted the very mission of the agency. Former commissioner of the CPSC from 2013 to 2018 Marietta Robinson wrote in a letter to the editor related to the Washington Post report, “The agency was formed more than 45 years ago for the very purpose of protecting consumers from unreasonably dangerous products such as the Britax stroller.” Without an official recall, people who buy these strollers from 3rd party sellers or used strollers on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace are rolling the dice. I say this as someone who is currently browsing these sites for used strollers and finding listing upon listing for these strollers without any disclaimer about their safety issues.
With no posting on the CPSC’s website, consumers have to rely on a Washington Post investigation to make a purchasing decision. This is unacceptable. It’s a clear demonstration of the importance of regulators looking out for public health and safety, not the bottom lines of the regulated industry. CPSC commissioners need to listen to their staff recommendations and stop politicizing consumer safety measures, and Senators need to take a long, hard look at Buerkle’s history and this case in particular when her confirmation vote comes up.