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Can Congress Measure the Cost of a Child’s Life?

Product safety advocates led by the Consumer Federation of America held a briefing recently on the importance of regulations for consumer product safety. The briefing was in response to a hearing held by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee during which the Republican majority argued in favor of eliminating public safeguards. Three families whose children were the victims of unsafe products spoke at the briefing to urge Congress to create stronger regulations rather than eliminate critical existing safety standards which would endanger the lives of children across the country.

Products such as cribs, supplemental mattresses used in cribs and play yards, and window coverings with cords have killed and injured children and will continue to do so unless the federal government writes, implements and maintains strict product safety requirements. The recent briefing highlighted the horrific results for families when faced with unsafe products.

Under the authority of The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has implemented the strongest crib standards in the world and if these regulations were eliminated, companies would be able to sell faulty cribs without the government being able to step in and protect kids’ lives. Panelist Andrew Hartung, whose child was injured due to a faulty crib, said he was initially told by the company that it was an isolated incident. Upon later investigation, it was revealed that the company received numerous reports of their cribs breaking and injuring children and the item was later recalled by the CPSC.

Some rules are still in the works, though. Today, supplemental mattresses for play yards are still sold despite the danger they impose for children. Amazon and Walmart continue to sell supplemental mattresses while selling the accompanying play yards which include warning labels of the dangers of supplemental mattresses. In 2014 the CPSC found that there were 11,900 estimated injuries from cribs and mattresses and from 2011-2013 there were 108 deaths associated with cribs and mattresses. Additionally, the Consumer Federation of America found that at least 15 children died specifically from supplemental mattresses from 2000-2013. Panelist Joyce Davis, whose child died from an unsafe supplemental mattress, called for a nationwide ban to ensure that no companies would be able to sell them to unsuspecting families.

Window coverings that use cords have also been responsible for the deaths of many children across the country. According to the CPSC, almost 1 child a month dies from window covering cords. Despite the fact that they are known to increase the risk of strangulation among children, window coverings with cords are still sold by companies. Panelist Timothy Frink, whose granddaughter was a victim of a corded window covering, argued that “no business has the right to sell a product that can kill children and destroy their families.” Frink, a lifelong Republican, urged Congress to implement stricter regulation of unsafe products.

The CPSC has taken steps to solve this issue with its efforts to increase awareness of the strangulation risks associated with window covering cords and has begun a rulemaking process to consider a ban on corded window coverings. A study recently published by the CPSC found that parents generally are not informed about the magnitude of the danger that cords impose and do not install proper safety devices that could decrease certain incidents. The study stated that in order to effectively reduce the hazardous impact of window covering cords, these cords should be eliminated entirely. The study concluded that significant differences in deaths and injuries will only be apparent once cordless blinds are required moving forward.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress are attempting to limit the ability of government agencies to do their jobs of protecting the safety and wellbeing of the American people. These threats are coming on many fronts. One way, is by using the Congressional Review Act to get rid of recently implemented regulations, threatening key public protections. Other threats would weaken the power of the CPSC as an independent agency.

The efforts to halt new– or even eliminate existing– public safeguards far too often focus on the supposed costs to industry and do not accurately weigh the benefits. Lives are saved every day because of the existence of agencies such as the CPSC and their work to monitor companies, impose safety standards and recall dangerous products.

The opening comments of the product safety briefing by moderator Rachel Weintraub expressed the most powerful argument of all: while we measure the costs of regulation for businesses, we must also realize that the cost for a family that loses a child due to the underregulation of an unsafe product is immeasurable.