Yes Nancy, You Have One Toy Tester

Bill Scher

On Saturday, the Washington Post solicited reaction from the Consumer Product Safety Commission about our tragic and shocking new video — showing Barbie contracting lead poisoning from Ken and demanding the resignation of acting head Nancy Nord.

And the misleading spin from Nord’s people is just as nasty as the widespread lead.

From the Washington Post:

“I’m not going to dignify the video with any kind of response other than to say it’s riddled with inaccuracies,” says Julie Vallese, an agency spokeswoman.

The “only one toy tester” claim became popular after the press reported earlier this fall that the CPSC had only one full-time tester. Vallese has been responding to it ever since.

“No one person at the commission has the title of toy tester,” she said. Instead, the CPSC employs about 80 toxicologists, chemists, engineers and other professionals whose primary duty is toy inspection.

Tell that to the toy tester. From the Sept. 2 New York Times (emphasis added):

At the agency’s product testing lab, which operates out of a former missile defense radar station in Gaithersburg, Md., the impact of the tight budgets is apparent.

One lab worker used a magnifying glass and a mechanical stop watch to help conduct a fabric flammability experiment — the same equipment she has used for three decades. The toy laboratory, down the hall, is an office so cramped that the only space dedicated to a drop test to see if toys will break into small pieces and cause a choking hazard is the spare space behind the office door. “This is the toy lab for all of America — for all of the United States government!” said Robert L. Hundemer, the one agency employee who routinely tests toys, as he held up his arms in the air. “We do what we can.”

What does that “about 80” figure really refer to? Field inspectors, not testers.

And there’s not enough of them either. Again from the NYT:

Today, 81 field inspectors work out of their homes, compared with a network of field offices with 133 employees in 2002. While agency records show that they have increased the number of on-site investigations into reported deaths or injuries, in 2006 it took much longer — weeks or even months — to determine whether certain products were at fault and to recommend corrective action. The records also show that compliance investigations — to determine if products on the market meet standards — dropped 45 percent from 2003 to 2006.

[Thomas H.] Moore, the commissioner appointed by [President Bill] Clinton, told Congress in March that it would take years to recover from the loss of employees with expertise in toys, fire-related hazards, drowning prevention and chemical risks, among others.

A senior agency official was more blunt. “It is a complete disaster,” said the official, one of nearly a dozen who spoke anonymously because the agency had instructed employees not to talk to reporters. “There is just no other word for it.”

Nancy Nord may not want to dignify our video with a response, but America’s families should not have to dignify her as their product safety commissioner.

Sign the petition.

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