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 December 2007
Feature


JEFFREY GROVE is vice president of global policy and industry affairs at ASTM International.

KATHARINE MORGAN is vice president of technical committee operations at ASTM International.

ASTM International Assists U.S. Congress with Review of Toy Safety Issues

by Jeffrey Grove and Katharine Morgan

At least 15 million items manufactured in China — including many popular toys — were recalled in the U.S. over the summer of 2007, according to data compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Seeking answers to numerous questions regarding product design, testing and importation, the U.S. Congress has begun oversight and investigation activities by inviting key stakeholders from all sectors of the global supply chain for toy manufacture to testify at Congressional hearings. ASTM International has been on the forefront of assisting Congress in this endeavor by testifying and providing important information on ASTM standards and their role in toy safety.

On Sept. 20, 2007, ASTM International’s Vice President of Technical Committee Operations Katharine Morgan testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection at a hearing entitled “Protecting Children from Lead-Tainted Imports.” Morgan’s testimony described the U.S. system of standardization, the role of standards development organizations, and the development and maintenance of ASTM’s globally recognized standard, F 963, Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, as well as related activities of Committee F15 on Consumer Products. Finally, the testimony highlighted ASTM’s relationships with standards authorities in China and related outreach and education activities. The ASTM testimony is provided below.

Introduction

ASTM International is a leading nonprofit organization devoted to the development of international standards. For more than 100 years, ASTM has served society as a leading venue for consumers, industry and regulators to work collaboratively under a balanced and consensus-based process to craft standards that promote health and safety and improve quality of life. Unlike other standards development organizations, ASTM focuses almost exclusively on standards development. We do not offer testing and accreditation services, nor do we license a certification mark. As a result of our steadfast focus on standards development, ASTM standards are well known and valued globally for their technical quality and relevance.

The U.S. Voluntary Consensus Standards System

The Consumer Product Safety Act and its subsequent amendments establishes a federal policy directing CPSC to defer to a voluntary consumer product safety standard in lieu of promulgating its own requirements if important criteria are likely to be met through the use of the voluntary standard. This criteria includes a CPSC determination as to whether the utilization of a voluntary standard would eliminate or adequately reduce the risk of injury addressed and whether it is likely that there will be substantial compliance to the standard by industry. The CPSC retains the ultimate authority to promulgate mandatory standards in the event that such standards are not effective or substantial compliance is not widespread. Other important federal laws, such as the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act, direct all agencies to use voluntary consensus standards and to participate in their development where it makes sense to do so.

The United States has a very decentralized voluntary consensus standards system that is driven by the needs of stakeholders. The government is a major participant, but the process requires participation and cooperation of all stakeholders and a commitment toward reaching a consensus. To guide the process, ASTM and many standards development organizations are accredited by the American National Standards Institute and adhere to procedures for due process, openness, balance and transparency. If it is suggested that these procedures are not being met, there are protective actions such as a right of appeal to preserve the integrity of the process.

The U.S. system of standardization is the most dynamic system in the world. It significantly reduces or often eliminates the cost to the federal government of developing its own standards. For consumers, it provides an important standards foundation which, when used in conjunction with an effective testing and compliance program, can build consumer confidence in the products that are purchased. But most importantly, the system allows stakeholders — technical experts, consumer advocates and regulators — to engage directly in the development process. Led by the private sector, new standards and revisions to existing standards can often be made and incorporated into the marketplace much faster than by agency rulemaking or other regulatory action. The nimbleness of this system allows timely revisions to standards to reflect changing technology and establish requirements to address changing hazard patterns or emerging issues. This also enables the government to leverage both expertise and resources to rapidly respond to threats.

ASTM Standards and Toy Safety

ASTM standards are widely used to make toys safer for children to play with and to assist manufacturers in testing components and products to determine levels of lead and other declarable substances. ASTM Committee F15 on Consumer Products has played an important role in consumer product safety standards for over 30 years. The committee has a broad global membership of approximately 900 professionals, including staff of the CPSC, consumers, safety advocates, retailers, researchers, medical professionals, academics, test laboratories and representatives of the consumer products industry. Committee F15 encompasses 50 standards-writing subcommittees in different product areas and will form new subcommittees as urgent safety issues and new hazards are identified that lend themselves to a standards solution.

One of the most critical areas of focus for Committee F15 is toy safety. With thousands of new toys introduced to the marketplace each year, ASTM plays a vital role in protecting the safety of children. An important contributor to that safety is ASTM F 963, which establishes recognized safety requirements for toys intended for use by children under the age of 14. ASTM F 963 helps protect children in countless ways as it relates to possible hazards that may not be recognized readily by the public, but which may be encountered in the normal use for which a toy is intended or after reasonably foreseeable abuse.

Federal toy safety regulations in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations are referenced in ASTM F 963. In addition, there are more than 100 separate tests, design specifications and other requirements included. These tests and specifications include use-and-abuse tests, testing for accessible sharp points and edges, and measuring for small parts, wheel-pull resistance and projectiles. There are also tests for flammability, toxicity, electrical and thermal requirements, and noise. Manufacturers design products to achieve conformance with such requirements.

ASTM F 963 and Lead in Toys

First drafted in 1971 (and later adopted under ASTM), ASTM F 963 has been enhanced over the years to address new product technology and changes in regulation. Section 4.3 of F 963 addresses lead and other materials that are either toxic, corrosive or irritants. The requirements related to lead restriction are from 16 CFR 1303, which is referenced in F 963, Section 4.3.5. This requirement has been in the standard since mandated. There have not been any revisions to this section in recent years. Accordingly, the existing ASTM standard and federal regulations address the key issue of lead in paint on toys.

ASTM F 963 and Magnet Ingestion

ASTM standards are required to be reviewed every five years at a minimum. F 963, due to its comprehensive nature and the dynamics of an evolving industry, is under constant evaluation to address changing needs from both a product and emerging hazard standpoint. Recent revisions made to ASTM F 963 include the addition of safety requirements and test methods for yo-yo elastic tether toys; the addition of requirements related to cord, straps and elastics; and revisions to sections that address packaging film, age requirements as they pertain to use and abuse testing, and hemispheric shaped objects.

There have been reported incidents in recent years of children swallowing small magnets that were built into toys or that were part of a building play set with small parts intended for older children. These incidents of magnet ingestion drove a recent revision to ASTM F 963 requiring that magnets and magnetic components be reliably contained within a toy or carry a warning describing the dangers posed by functional small ingestible magnets. The subcommittee is further developing the magnets section of F 963 and is working on a Web-based training program to educate industry, retailers, testing laboratories and others on the new requirements.

The revision of ASTM F 963 containing the initial provisions to address magnets was approved on March 15, nine months following the initial establishment of the task group in June 2006. ASTM members involved in this effort recognized the urgency of the need and diligently worked together to develop the new safety requirements. Nine months of development time, given the complexity of the task in a full-consensus environment, is evidence of the high priority that the various interest groups involved placed on finding a solution.

Lead in Children’s Vinyl Products

Requests for new activities as well as the development of new or the revision of existing ASTM standards are received from a variety of sources. Earlier this year, CPSC requested that Committee F15 coordinate the development of a new standard for mitigating lead in certain children’s vinyl products. Accordingly, a new F15 subcommittee was created in August 2007 on lead in children’s vinyl products. The initial activity as approved at the organizational meeting will focus on the identification of accessible lead in vinyl children’s products such as baby bibs and lunch boxes. The scope of the activity could be broadened in the future should it be determined based upon hazard data and risk assessments that it is necessary to do so.

Consumer Participation in Committee F15

Most major manufacturers of toys, and juvenile and related consumer products participate in Committee F15 as do many major retailers. These individuals are classified as “producers” for the purposes of committee operations and standards development work. Representatives of consumer groups, safety advocates, testing laboratories, academia and government agencies are classified as “nonproducers,” because they represent a consumer, user or general interest. ASTM’s regulations require a balance of interests in two ways — first by allowing only one vote per organization and second by ensuring that the number of voting producers never exceeds the number of voting nonproducers. Thus, no single person or entity can control an ASTM standards committee, its agenda or the content of an ASTM standard.

Staff of the CPSC is actively engaged in the work of ASTM International Committee F15, particularly in key subcommittees on toys and related juvenile products. While CPSC attends meetings and actively participates in the standards development process, a commission policy requires that staff maintain nonofficial voting status. However, CPSC staff regularly returns abstention ballots with technical comments that are very significant to F15 deliberations.

Consumers and safety advocates continue to play an important role in F15 and other ASTM technical committees by raising awareness of issues, providing valuable input regarding consumer behavior and preferences, and recommending entire new subject areas for standardization. These individuals share their experiences and knowledge to create better standards and, ultimately, better products. One of the greatest barriers to participation by consumers has been a lack of financial resources. Recognizing the need to assure that the interests of the public are protected and represented in our standards activities, ASTM provides a level of travel and participation assistance for consumers to attend subcommittee meetings, and Committee F15 has a policy of waiving the annual administrative membership fee to encourage broader participation from consumers. ASTM has also reduced barriers to participation with a full range of electronic initiatives that allow individuals to participate in the standards development process from their computer desktop without ever having to physically attend meetings.

While taking steps to encourage more active consumer participation, Committee F15 is proud of the fact that many leading consumer organizations — including, among others, Kids In Danger, the Consumer Federation of America, Safe Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Consumers Union, Good Housekeeping and Keeping Babies Safe — are engaged and are making a difference. Individuals and organizations that do participate in standards development should be applauded for their contributions of time, talent and resources. ASTM thanks them for their important efforts and numerous contributions to the development of safety standards.

ASTM Outreach to China

ASTM has cooperated with the standards bodies in China on numerous initiatives. Major activities include the signing of a cooperation agreement with the Standardization Administration of China and similar agreements with other prominent standards organizations, including the Chinese National Institute of Standardization and the Shanghai Institute of Standardization.

Through our relationships with China’s leading standards bodies, ASTM provides our partners in China with access to the full set of 12,000 ASTM standards, jointly sponsors standards and training programs, provides participating membership to Chinese representatives on ASTM technical committees and sponsors a professional exchange program encouraging Chinese standards experts to visit ASTM’s international headquarters in Pennsylvania for extended study of ASTM and the U.S. standards development process. In return, Chinese standards bodies promote the acceptance and use of ASTM standards in China, utilize ASTM’s resources to develop Chinese national standards, reference ASTM standards where applicable in Chinese national standards (China currently uses more than 450 ASTM standards as the basis of its national standards) and facilitate connections between Chinese technical experts and ASTM technical committees to ensure that ASTM standards reflect the specific needs of Chinese industry.

ASTM is one of four U.S.-based international standards development organizations that have jointly established the Consortium for Standards and Conformity Assessment in China. Located in Beijing, the CSCA office helps build cooperative and enduring relationships with Chinese governmental and industry standards associations. It also promotes the understanding and use of ASTM standards and those of other U.S.-domiciled SDOs in China. The other members of the consortium are the American Petroleum Institute, ASME International and CSA America. In addition, ASTM officially opened an office in Beijing earlier in 2007. The ASTM International board of directors met last October in Beijing and also sponsored a day of outreach visits with Chinese industry and government organizations. Follow-up from that event continues.

Through our global outreach efforts in China, we look forward to working with representatives of Chinese government and industry to raise a greater awareness and understanding of ASTM standards, including F 963. ASTM also looks forward to assisting CPSC and other U.S. government agencies as they engage China on issues involving standards, product safety and international trade.

Conclusion

Consensus standards such as ASTM F 963 exist to address toy safety issues and reduce threats to children from acute mechanical and chronic hazards involving lead and other toxic substances. While we have had great success in working cooperatively with representatives from the CPSC, industry, consumer groups and other interested stakeholders to develop ASTM standards, enhanced awareness, understanding and adherence throughout all aspects of the global supply chain will be critical in meeting emerging safety challenges of the future. Long-term solutions include a conformity assessment system that begins with the development of the most diligent technical standard possible and is followed by a testing and compliance process that affords consumers the ability to purchase products with a confidence that those products meet applicable technical and safety standards.

At ASTM International, where standards development is the core competency, our efforts will continue to focus on those critical elements needed for responsive and effective standards development — ensuring an inclusive process that engages the most balanced and complete representation of stakeholders and providing the structure, technology and tools needed for those stakeholders to efficiently work and develop the standards that are needed.

For more information regarding the ASTM Washington office and its activities involving standards-related legislation, regulations and trade agreements, please contact Jeffrey Grove (phone: 202/223-8505). //