Obama Calls on President to Take Immediate Action to Protect Our Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to President Bush, urging him to do everything possible to protect our children from toys contaminated with lead. In the letter, Obama calls on the President to immediately nominate a chairman to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) who will be a forceful advocate for the interests of American parents. Since July 2006, the CPSC has been operating without a full set of commissioners, preventing the remaining two commissioners from voting on civil penalties or taking regulatory action. Obama also requests that the President support a funding increase for the CPSC to protect America’s children from lead contaminated toys. In November 2005, Obama introduced the Lead Free Toys Act to provide the CPSC with the authority to ban children’s products containing lead as hazardous substances.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear President Bush:

In light of the recent recalls of lead-contaminated toys manufactured in China, it is incumbent upon our government and our business to do everything possible to protect our children from dangerous products. For that reason, I have written over the past two weeks to the Senate Commerce Committee, the Toy Industry Association, and the U.S. Trade Representative urging immediate action to rid the marketplace of toys containing lead paint.

The White House can – and should – take immediate action as well, including: nominating a chairman to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) who is committed to the interests of consumers, instead of industry; and increasing the CPSC’s resources and authority.

In recent months, there have been a number of high-profile recalls of children’s products manufactured in China involving lead paint. Lead is a highly toxic substance that can produce a range of health problems in young children including IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity, and damage to the kidneys, brain and bone marrow.

Some of the recent recalls of Chinese manufactured toys include:

In March 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced three separate recalls of 108,600 units of children's necklaces and 128,700 “Elite Operations” toy sets due to high lead paint content.

In April, 4 million “Groovy Grabber” bracelets and 396,000 metal key chains were recalled because of high lead content.

In May, 103,000 pieces of metal jewelry marketed in conjunction with “High School Musical” were recalled because of high lead content.

In June, the RC2 Corporation recalled 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden toy railway sets that were coated with excessive levels of lead paint.

Two weeks ago, Mattel announced the recall of 83 types of toys worldwide because the paint in the toys contained excessive amounts of lead. This worldwide recall involved almost 1 million plastic preschool toys, including the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters.

And just yesterday, Mattel announced the recall of 253,000 toy jeeps featuring the Sarge character from the movie “Cars” due to lead paint on the jeeps.

The CPSC is the primary federal agency charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death. However, since July 2006, the CPSC has been operating without a full set of commissioners. According to the Consumer Product Safety Act, the two remaining commissioners can continue their regulatory activities for six months after a vacancy, but after those six months, a commission with only two members is not able to vote on civil penalties or take regulatory action. It has now been thirteen months without a full commission.

In order for the CPSC to safeguard the interests of our most vulnerable consumers -- our children -- it is important that a third commissioner be named as soon as possible. And, because the current vacancy is for a new chairman, it is important to name someone who has a longstanding commitment to consumer protection. Unfortunately, the background of your first nominee for the chairman position did not indicate such a commitment.

In March, you nominated Michael E. Baroody, executive vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), to be the CPSC chairman. A number of well-respected advocacy groups objected to Mr. Baroody’s nomination because of his history of working to “dilute safety proposals pending before the Commission.” Among the initiatives Mr. Baroody spearheaded at NAM was opposition to a CPSC proposal to improve safety standards for baby walkers. Further raising concerns about Mr. Baroody’s ability to act independently from the industry that he was supposed to be regulating was his acceptance of a $150,000 severance payment from NAM. Mr. Bardoody withdrew his nomination in May.

Leading the nation’s premier product safety commission is an important responsibility that should be entrusted to someone who can be a forceful advocate for the CPSC’s mission. I urge you to nominate someone quickly who will safeguard the interests of American parents, instead of manufacturers.

In addition to nominating a new chairman -- which will give the CPSC the required number of members to take regulatory action -- it is important that the commission be given the resources it needs to perform its mission. For the last several years, the commission’s funding has hovered around $60 million annually even though more and more foreign-manufactured consumer products are entering the market. The number of full-time staffers at CPSC has also shrunk to about 400 employees, less than half the size of the staff in 1980.

Recently, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill to increase the CPSC budget to $70 million -- $7.2 million above last year’s amount and $6.8 million above the Administration’s budget request. If the Administration is serious about protecting America’s children from dangerous toys, I ask you to publicly announce your support for this funding increase.

Moreover, the CPSC should have the authority to ban children’s products containing lead as hazardous substances. That is exactly what the Lead Free Toys Act, which I introduced in both the 109th and 110th Congresses, would do. I hope the Administration will consider supporting this important legislation.

The American people – and in particular, American parents – trust that the products they are purchasing have undergone a thorough inspection and are safe to use. We need to ensure that their trust is not misplaced, and so I call on you to take immediate steps to allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission to function more effectively. Thank you.

Barack Obama
United States Senator

(Release issued by Senator Obama's office in Washington, D.C.)