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Brooks Schuelke
Brooks Schuelke
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CPSC Failing On Defective Products

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Today’s New York Times had a great article discussing the issues facing the Consumer Products Safety Commission in its attempts to regulate defective products. The articles uses a do-it-yourself tile waterproofing product, Stand ‘n Seal, and the injuries it caused to a New York doctor as its case study of what’s going wrong. According the article:

Dr. Friedel was the latest victim of a product whose dangers had become known months earlier to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the companies that made and sold it. Before Dr. Friedel bought Stand ‘n Seal, at least 80 people had been sickened using it, two of them fatally.

But even then, with the threat well-documented, the manufacturer, retailer and the commission had failed to remove the hazard from the shelves.

The task of getting dangerous products out of consumers’ reach is perhaps the most pressing challenge the Consumer Product Safety Commission faces in this era of surging recalls, particularly of products from China. It is an essential part of the agency’s mission, because premarket testing is not required for consumer products in the United States.

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But the Stand ‘n Seal case is a powerful illustration of the commission’s failure to fully live up to its mission. Court documents show that, as the case unfolded, the product’s maker, BRTT, appeared at times to be more concerned with protecting its bottom line than with taking steps to ensure that the hazard was removed. That meant that hazardous cans of Stand ‘n Seal remained on the shelves for more than a year after the 2005 recall.

And the product that BRTT initially rushed to put in its place — and which Dr. Friedel and others bought — contained the same chemical that had apparently caused injuries in the first place, the company and Home Depot now acknowledge.

Critics say the Stand ‘n Seal case demonstrates how the Consumer Product Safety Commission is too overwhelmed with reports of injuries and with new hazards to comprehensively investigate or follow up on many complaints. The agency’s laboratory is also so antiquated it did not have the equipment necessary to evaluate fully the remedy BRTT offered — leaving the agency to rely largely on the company’s promise that it would fix the problem.

And then, after receiving repeated complaints that the hazard persisted long after the recall, the agency failed to follow up adequately, documents show.

The article follows up with a look at one of the problems facing consumers: getting the defective products off the shelves after a recall. That’s particularly important today. It seems that every day’s news has another story about a defective product being recalled. But instead of heightening awareness, the opposite may happen. If only one or two products are being recalled, it’s easy for the average consumer to keep up and watch what they’re buying. But when thousands of toys, food items, and other consumer goods are being recalled, it’s hard for consumers to keep up and make sure that they’re protecting themselves.

The article has one other note of mention — it is perhaps the first time that Brooks’s hometown of Kyle, Texas has made the Times:

Terri Keenan of Kyle, Tex., was one of those callers. Ms. Keenan used the spray in late May 2005 to seal tile in her kitchen and bathroom. Within an hour or so, she began feeling dizzy, thirsty and short of breath. Minutes later, she started foaming at the mouth; then she could not get up from the ground. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where she remained for five days.

Those of us from small towns have to take whatever publicity we can get.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Defective and Dangerous Products.