WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate leader said on Wednesday the U.S. agency in charge of toy safety needed to take immediate steps to restore consumer confidence, including improving recall information and ending industry-paid travel.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, also voiced hoped the Senate could approve a toy safety bill before the end of the year.
“We know the consumer safety system in America is broken,” said Durbin of Illinois, also assistant Senate majority leader.
The CPSC has come under intense scrutiny this year amid recalls of millions of Chinese-made toys for lead paint and other hazards such as small magnets. The agency could not immediately be reached for comment.
Some of the most popular branded toys in the United States, including Thomas the Tank Engine, Curious George and SpongeBob SquarePants, have been pulled from shelves, adding to consumer worries at a time when high fuel costs and a credit crunch is crimping spending.
The Ecology Center, a nonprofit group based in Michigan, released the results on Wednesday of tests on 1,200 popular children’s toys for toxic chemicals, finding that 17 percent of products tested had lead levels above the federal standard for a recall. Lead can cause developmental delays and behavioral disorders in children.
The testing, the results of which can be found at HealthyToys.org, found a Hannah Montana Pop Star Card Pack sold by New York-based Cardinal Industries contained more than five times the federal limit for lead and a pair of Circo baby shoes had almost three times the limit. Cardinal Industries could not be reached for comment.
Durbin said the CPSC was dealing with the lowest staffing levels since 1980, along with a sharp increase in foreign imports.
He said the agency needed to immediately improve its image by declaring a one-year moratorium on industry-paid travel after reports CPSC acting Chairman Nancy Nord and other agency officials took such trips.
Durbin added the agency also needed to make it easier for parents to quickly search the CPSC’s Web site to determine if products in their homes had been recalled.
The Senate is considering a bill that would more than double the CPSC’s budget to $141.7 million by 2015 from the current $62.7 million, increase staffing levels by nearly 20 percent and increase the maximum fine the CPSC can issue to $100 million from $1.8 million.
The bill would also give the CPSC greater authority to inspect and recall products and would require third-party testing for children’s products and ban lead in children’s jewelry.
The House of Representatives is considering a similar bill, which it hopes to pass before the end of the year.
Editing by Peter Cooney