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New product safety database launched, but must be protected from corporate attacks

Today marks a great day for consumer safety: The Consumer Product Safety Commission is formally launching a new database designed to protect consumers from hazardous products. People will be able to learn if others in the country have been injured by anything from stoves and cribs to toys and tools. And anyone who has been injured by a dangerous product can warn others.

The database (available at www.saferproducts.gov) was a critical part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, a law passed in the wake of appalling deaths and injuries caused by hazardous products. Previously, it took way too long for manufacturers and the agency to notify consumers of dangerous products. The database can close the gap by ensuring safety hazards are shared in a timely manner with the public.

There’s just one problem: The new Congress is trying to shut down the database before it gets going.

Amazingly, despite the horrific incidents that prompted the previous Congress to act, some lawmakers are trying to cut funding for the database. Two weeks ago, a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut off all money for the database. The amendment was filed by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), whose top campaign contributor is Koch Industries, a giant manufacturer.

So the battle continues – consumer safety versus industry interests. Among other complaints, industry representatives erroneously contend that the database will contain materially inaccurate information. But it has many safeguards against that possibility, not the least of which is that an incident report is not instantly available to the public. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is required to submit incident reports to the respective product manufacturer before posting them online. (Consumers who report on the database can choose to share their identities with the manufacturer/retailer or keep their reports anonymous). There also are protections against the posting of confidential business information.

We can’t let Congress stop the emergence of a new era in consumer product safety before it begins. Lawmakers must ensure the database thrives by making sure it has adequate funding.

Note: Public Citizen was one of the groups leading the effort to pass the consumer product safety overhaul law. Learn more about our work to improve consumer product safety.

Christine Hines is Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel at Public Citizen. Follow her on Twitter @chines_citizen