Toward Safer Consumer Products
An Interview with Inez Tenenbaum, Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Inez Tenenbaum discusses safer products for children through the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, and the collaboration of CPSC and ASTM International.
CPSC Representation on ASTM Committees
Staffers at CPSC participate on a number of ASTM International technical committees, including:
- C11 on Gypsum and Related Building Materials and Systems,
- D01 on Paint and Related Coatings, Materials and Applications,
- D10 on Packaging,
- D13 on Textiles,
- D21 on Polishes,
- E08 on Fatigue and Fracture,
- E56 on Nanotechnology,
- F06 on Resilient Floor Coverings,
- F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities,
- F13 on Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear,
- F15 on Consumer Products,
- F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices,
- F40 on Declarable Substances in Materials, and
- G01 on Corrosion of Metals.
Under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the U.S. Congress established new or additional consumer product safety standards and requirements. How would you describe the role of voluntary consensus standards in this legislation? What current priorities does the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have based on the content of this law and what role do standards have in these priorities?
In 2008, Congress created a paradigm shift with the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The law mandated that certain children’s product standards in this country, such as those dealing with toys and durable infant or toddler products, shift from being voluntary to mandatory. From the start of my tenure as chairman, I believed that ASTM International needed to play a critical role if CPSC was to effectively implement this mandate. With tight deadlines to establish lifesaving, federal standards for toys, cribs and numerous juvenile products, it was vital that the technical staff at CPSC have confidence that they could use and build from the existing voluntary standards. The longstanding relationships that CPSC technical staff have with the chairs and members of the F963 group and the F15 subcommittees on juvenile products were a key to our success at CPSC.1
Between 2009 and 2011, CPSC turned the longstanding F963 standard — F963, Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety — into a mandatory federal toy safety requirement; established the strongest crib safety standard in the world; and approved mandatory standards for baby walkers, baby bath seats and toddler beds. All of these rules represent victories for the safety of children and families, and the leadership of ASTM and its subcommittee members should take pride in their contributions to this effort.
Going forward in 2012 and beyond, the commissioners and staff at CPSC still need to work on incorporating the updated and upgraded F963-11 voluntary standard into the federal toy standard, and developing new federal rules for numerous additional juvenile products.
All cribs on the U.S. market had to be in compliance with the new mandatory safety rule by June 2011, a rule that you’ve described as establishing robust and highly protective standards for full-size and non-full-size cribs. What does this accomplishment represent and what process achieved it? How does this result provide impetus for similar projects?
In August of last year, I visited a small retail store for children in Atlanta, Ga., that has been run by the same family for multiple generations. The proprietor was proud to take me around the store and show me all of the new, compliant cribs. These were some of the safest cribs in the world. We both knew that customers who purchased these cribs could have greater confidence that their babies would sleep safely.
As exemplified by the Chairman’s Circle of Commendation award that I presented to Kathie Morgan and Len Morrissey and the F15.18 subcommittee last December,2 I believe that ASTM was instrumental in the commission’s first major upgrade of the federal crib standards in 30 years.
Early in 2010, I met with the subcommittee members during a meeting at CPSC’s headquarters and spelled out clear and ambitious expectations for revising the voluntary standard. The subcommittee responded. Working closely with CPSC’s senior mechanical engineer Patty Edwards, the F15.18 subcommittee incorporated requirements for more durable crib hardware and stronger mattress supports and a prohibition of the deadly traditional drop-sides into the ASTM standards. The ASTM standards served as the foundation for our final mandatory crib safety standards. I believe that, as a result of our collective efforts, we will see a reduction in the number of babies who die because of mechanical failures in cribs.
Once again, I commend ASTM for their work on the crib standards and hope that it can serve as a model for future collaboration in meeting the requirements of Section 104 of the CPSIA.3
What impact did the CPSIA have on how CPSC works with ASTM?
Through passage of the CPSIA, Congress charged CPSC with utilizing existing voluntary standards as a starting point to quickly establish federal safety standards that provide the highest level of safety feasible for numerous juvenile products. In order to maintain an effective partnership for ensuring the safety of our youngest and most vulnerable consumers, it is essential that ASTM recognize that CPSC will always strive to satisfy our mandate to promulgate the strongest federal safety standards feasible.
As an integral part of this process, ASTM’s juvenile product subcommittees must endeavor to quickly establish the strongest and most effective voluntary standards feasible for CPSC’s technical staff to utilize in our mandatory rulemakings. I believe that if we continue to work as partners, we will most effectively fulfill our joint responsibility to provide American families with additional peace of mind about the safety of children’s products.
In a July 2011 statement about toy safety you said, “We must protect our children by ensuring only safe toys are on the market.” How do standards, from your perspective, help ensure toy safety? How is the voluntary consensus process responsive to the need to protect children?
Most parents and consumers thought most likely that the majority of toy standards in the United States were mandatory. Yet, prior to February 2009, lead paint, small parts and protecting electrical components were among the handful of mandatory requirements for toys. Almost everything else fell under the sweeping F963 voluntary consensus toy standard. As I said earlier, that all changed with the passage by Congress of the CPSIA. In February 2009, the CPSIA turned F963 into a federal safety standard, and in January 2012, independent, third-party testing to the federal standard became a requirement for toy manufacturers and importers (except for certain small batch manufacturers).
I believe that standards can save lives, and by requiring companies to use third-party labs to verify compliance with this standard, well, that is how we build a global system of toy safety.
Joan Lawrence [vice president of the Toy Industry Association and an ASTM member] and the members of the F963 subcommittee worked hard to approve and publish a 2011 version of the standard at the end of last year. I am so pleased that F963-11 includes new cadmium and toxic metal limits in the substrate of toys, which CPSC staff and I have been calling for since 2010. We know that toy manufacturers in China are working to keep lead out of toys, but we absolutely do not want them substituting another toxic metal in its place. Having federal limits for toxic metals in surface coatings and substrates in toys enables us to make a strong case to the Chinese government and manufacturers that the United States is serious about ensuring that children are safe at play.
How is the public-private partnership in standards development important to the work of CPSC? Are there changes that you feel would make the partnership more responsive? If so, what are they?
There is one partnership in particular to which I would like to call attention to show the benefits of working with and through ASTM. It involves CPSC and the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association addressing the safety of children’s jewelry. To address a massive wave of metal jewelry that was recalled in the mid-2000s due to harmful levels of lead, Congress established, through the CPSIA, a bright line total lead content limit for jewelry and all children’s products. What remained was a need to establish a standard for jewelry that covered cadmium, chromium, arsenic and other toxic metals. The FJATA also recognized this need and stepped forward in a leadership role in their industry.
Working through the ASTM system, FJATA led the way in establishing the first ASTM subcommittee — F15.24 — dedicated solely to children’s jewelry. The partnership with CPSC came into play when our expert scientists provided the subcommittee with the results from their leading research on exposure to cadmium. Utilizing CPSC’s outstanding scientific work and FJATA’s industry knowledge, the F15.24 subcommittee proudly announced in November 2011 the approval of the F2923-11 standard. This standard strikes the right balance of protecting children from a range of toxic metals while taking into account a child’s exposure via mouthing or swallowing pieces of jewelry. F2923-11, Specification for Consumer Product Safety for Children’s Jewelry, is a good standard, it is a science-based standard, and I expect everyone in the children’s jewelry industry to comply with it.
Since you’ve taken on the leadership of CPSC, what keeps you up at night?
There are so many families who love their children more than life but are just trying to get by week by week. They unfortunately cannot afford to buy the latest and greatest products for their new baby or young child. So what keeps me up at night is the thought of a child who has a product in their nursery or toy box that is defective or doesn’t meet the latest standard — because their safety is at risk.
1. Subcommittees F15.22 on Toy Safety and F15.65 on General Juvenile Product Standards, both part of ASTM Committee F15 on Consumer Products.
2. Kathie Morgan is vice president of ASTM technical committee operations; Len Morrissey is ASTM staff manager for Committee F15 on Consumer Products; and F15.18 is Subcommittee F15.18 on Cribs, Toddler Beds, Play Yards, Bassinets, Cradles and Changing Tables.
3. CPSIA Section 104, Standards and Consumer Registration of Durable Nursery Products.Inez Tenenbaum is the ninth chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a position that she has held since her appointment confirmation in 2009. Previous positions include serving as South Carolina’s state superintendent of education and practicing health, environmental and public interest law. Tenenbaum has also participated in numerous task forces that provide oversight on children and family services.
This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.