Events, Speeches &
Klobuchar praises the Commerce Committee's passage of her "Toxic Toy" legislation, aimed at protecting consumers.
October 30, 2007 | Watch
Mr. President, for months news of recalled toys has dominated our headlines. As a mom and as a former prosecutor, and now as a U.S. Senator, I find it totally unacceptable that toxic toys are on our shores and in our stores. As my 12-year-old daughter said when her favorite Barbies were recalled, "Mom, this is getting serious."
Today the Senate Commerce Committee on which I serve took action to stem the tide of recalls, to finally take lead out of children's products, to establish real third-party verification, to simplify the recall process, to finally make it illegal to sell a recalled product, and to get the Consumer Product Safety Commission more resources. Our bill is the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act of 2007, and it's some of the most sweeping reform we've seen in years and years of this agency, which is really now a shadow of its former self. I'd like to thank Commerce Chair Senator Inouye for his work on this bill as well as Commerce Consumer Subcommittee Chair Senator Pryor for his work and also Senator Durbin and Senator Bill Nelson. We all worked together to put together a very strong bill.
To me, the focus is simple. We need to get these toxic toys out of our children's hands. Today's action by the Commerce Committee sends to the Senate floor our opportunity to effectively ban lead from all children's products. Not just voluntarily, not just as a guideline, but with the force of law.
I think it's shocking for most parents when they realize that we never really had a mandatory ban on lead in children's products. We never had that in the country. It was a voluntary guideline, and it takes a long time, and there are delays and delays and all kinds of loopholes and requirements that have lead us to the situation that we're in now. As millions of toys are being pulled from store shelves for fear of lead contamination, it is time to make crystal clear that lead has no place in children's products.
The need for this ban for me is crystallized from a case that happened in Minnesota. Any parent can tell you the first place a new toy goes is in a little child's mouth, but that shouldn't be our first test for lead, as you'll see what happened in this case in Minnesota. Last year a four-year-old Jarnelle Brown got a pair of tennis shoes at the store with his mom, and with that pair of tennis shoes came a free charm. His mom didn't buy that charm. He didn't buy that charm, but they brought it home, and he swallowed that charm. And he didn't die from ingesting the charm. He didn't choke on it. It wasn't that his airway was blocked. He just swallowed this little charm and it went into his stomach, and over a period of days the lead in that charm went into his system, went into his bloodstream slowly, slowly over a period of days, and he died. And when they tested him, his lead level was three times the accepted level. And when they tested that charm, that charm which was from china was 99% lead.
What is most tragic about this little boy's death is that it could have been prevented. He should have never been given that toy in the first place. It shouldn't take a child's death to alert us to this problem, but that's what we've seen across this country. Parents should have the right to expect that toys are tested and that problems are found before they reach a toy box. The legislation that I originally introduced to address this problem, the lead ban, is what is included in this bill that we passed through the committee today. It basically says that lead in any children's products shall be treated as a hazardous substance. It sets a ceiling for trace levels of lead and empowers the Consumer Product Safety Commission to lower the ceiling even further through rule-making as science and technology allow. It sets the level at .04, which is slightly below the voluntary guideline they have been using at the CPSC of .06. Several other states have levels at around .06. They have levels for jewelry at .02 parts per million which is taking place in California.
The reason for that is not little kids. Four-year olds swallowing charms like the sad, tragic case in Minnesota, but actually junior high and high school girls are chewing on jewelry. And it is the most direct way to get lead into their system. That's why we set the lead level, the trace lead level lower for jewelry. That was what we proposed in my bill, and that's the standard that is now included in the commerce bill which is headed to the floor. Just yesterday Consumer Reports released the results of four months of laboratory testing for lead in children's products, and what they found was alarming: high levels of lead in items ranging from toys to jewelry to vinyl backpacks to lunch boxes. According to a poll released by Consumer Reports, 36% of consumers say they will be buying fewer toys this holiday season, and 70% said that they will be checking product labels. It is clear that consumer confidence in the safety of our toys has been shaken.
For 30 years we've been aware of the dangers posed to children by lead paint. It shouldn't have taken us this long to take lead out of their hands and out of their mouths. And it is the Consumer Product Safety Commission's job to do just that. In recent months, it's become all too obvious that this commission needs much reform and that it's long overdue.
As we all know, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's last authorization expired in 1992, and its statutes have not been updated since 1990. Not surprisingly, the marketplace for consumer products has changed significantly in the last 15 years, and this summer we saw firsthand how ill-equipped the commission is to protect our most vulnerable consumers: our children. Today the commission is a shadow of its former self, although the number of imports has tripled -- tripled -- in recent years.
As you know all these recalls recently have been toys in China, literally millions and millions of toys. The number of commission staff and inspectors has been reduced by more than half dropping from a high in 1980 of 978 to just over 400 today. In total the Consumer Product Safety Commission has only about 100 field investigators and compliance personnel nationwide. Even worse, we now know the commission has only one toy inspector. His name is Bob. He works in kind of a makeshift laboratory, and he's retiring at the end of this year.
In some cases, like the recall of the Simplicity cribs and the Magnetix toys, years passed between when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was first alerted to the problem and when it acted to recall the product in question. This is the result of an outdated provision that places the interests of manufacturers before the interests of consumers.
The legislation passed by our Commerce Committee today goes a long way in modernizing the commission. This legislation more than doubles the CPSC’s budget authorization by the year 2015, a dramatic change, and it provides the commission with the tools it needs to enforce our consumer protection laws. Today's legislation will make it actually illegal to sell a recalled toy, finally taking action against those bad actors out there who are knowingly leaving recalled products on their shelves or placing them for sale on-line. And I do at this moment want to thank some of the retailers that have been working with us on this bill, Target, from my home state of Minnesota, as well as Toys ‘R Us. The C.E.O. of Toys ‘R Us testified before the Appropriations Committee and was very positive about moving forward and understood the need to beef up the tools for the CPSC as well as increasing the resources for that agency.
Finally, I was pleased to see incorporated in our bill today the idea that we need to make it easier for parents to identify the toys when a recall happens. Now, first of all, when a recall happens we need to make it easier for them to get the information. I talked to parents who neighbors actually put an e-mail under their door and that's how they found out about it. But the other piece of this is to make it easier for them to find out when they know there's a recall. Currently, there's no requirement for a batch number or a date on any of these toys. So when Thomas the Train Set is recalled, these parents are going through the caboose and the green car and the red car and the yellow car and trying to figure out do they have the car that was recalled. Obviously they don't always remember the date that they bought it. This can be easily fixed by putting a batch number on the toy. Obviously you can't do it for things like pickup sticks on the individual sticks. We're reasonable about this. The bill says when practicable, but you can put it on the toy where you can read it.
The other piece of this legislation also requires that the batch number be put on the packaging. The reason it has to be put on the packaging is not for the parents. Except for my mother-in-law, I think most people throw their packaging away when they get a toy. However, who needs to have that number on there are smaller retailers and people selling things on E-bay. Because big major outlets, like a Target, are able to, once they find out what the batch number is, close down their register so those kinds of toys can't get through. However, if you're selling it on E-bay or if you're in a smaller store, the retailer actually may have to look at the batch number to find out, just like a parent would, what's recalled. So that's why our legislation asked for the batch number to be both on the toy, when practicable, and on the packaging.
We've seen too many headlines this summer to sit around and think that this problem is going to solve itself. As a senator, I feel strongly that it's important to take this step to protect the safety of our children. When I think of that little four-year-old boy's parents back in Minnesota and you think about all these other children that have been hurt by these toys that they have no control over -- they're just little kids -- we can do better in this country. We can beef up this agency that has been languishing for years. We can put the rules in place that make it easier for them to do their job. We just can't sit around bemoaning the results anymore. We have to act. We have our opportunity, and I hope we do it quickly.
Thank you very much, Mr. President. I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.
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