Here are two separate but related stories. One is about lunch boxes (h/t Melanie of Just a Bump in the Beltway fame). One is about cronyism and sucking up to business in the Bush Administration. First lunch boxes:
Story #1, lunchboxes:
In 2005, when government scientists tested 60 soft, vinyl lunchboxes, they found that one in five contained amounts of lead that medical experts consider unsafe — and several had more than 10 times hazardous levels.
But that’s not what they told the public.
Instead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement that they found “no instances of hazardous levels.” And they refused to release their actual test results, citing regulations that protect manufacturers from having their information released to the public.
That data was not made public until The Associated Press received a box of about 1,500 pages of lab reports, in-house e-mails and other records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed a year ago. (CNN)
The CPSC explanation is that while the lunch boxes do contain undue levels of lead, if you wipe the outside of the lunch boxes you find very little lead comes off. Thus the amount of lead on the hands or the food of children is negligible and not a hazard. Of course if you wanted to dispose of the lunch box, you’d have to consider it a hazardous waste.
The FDA attitude is not quite so laissez faire:
Although these test results are only now being aired publicly, the CPSC did provide them to the Food and Drug Administration last summer. The FDA’s reaction was completely different from the CPSC’s. In July 2006, after receiving the test results, the FDA sent a letter to lunch box manufacturers warning them that their lead levels might be dangerously high and advising them that the FDA might take action against them because the lead would be considered a food additive if it rubbed off onto kids’ lunches.
Some retailers have stopped selling the lunchboxes and some manufacturers have changed their processes to eliminate the lead. Not necessary, according to CPSC.
Story #2, cronyism:
Since January, the third seat on the CPSC Commission has been vacant. Until a third commissioner was named, CPSC couldn’t vote on new safety standards or take any action on civil penalties against firms that failed to report defective and hazardous products. The good news is that Bush has now named a new Commissioner and Chair. That’s also the bad news:
President Bush is expected to nominate the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, Michael Baroody, to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC has left semi-neutered status, opting for the full procedure. ConsumerAffairs.com writes:
“Because of Baroody’s Republican ties and history of opposing strong safety regulation, his appointment is unlikely to be popular with the Democratic-controlled Congress.” (Consumerist)
How the Congress feels about it is irrelevant for the moment. This is another Bush recess appointment (like the John Bolton beauty at the UN). It doesn’t have to face congressional approval until after the adjournment of the 110th Congress in 2008. What are Baroody’s qualifications?
Baroody’s less than impressive pro-consumer biography is steeped almost exclusively in public relations work for major Republican figures. He served as Bob Dole’s Speechwriter and Executive Assistant, and later as a flack for the RNC and the Reagan White House. Baroody has served as the chief spokesmen for the National Association of Manufacturers, a group the San Francisco Chronicle described as “an industry group that opposes aggressive product-safety regulation and punitive fines.” (The Consumerist)
Story #1. Story #2. You connect the dots.