Product Safety Chief Warns Manufacturers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- One of the nation's top safety officials is putting manufacturers on notice: comply with new rules aimed at keeping children's products safe, or face the potential of big fines.

Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said Tuesday that her agency will get new enforcement tools next month -- and she plans to use them in order to protect consumers, especially children.

Come Aug. 14, the maximum civil penalty the agency could impose for violations increases significantly, from $1.8 million to $15 million.

"Those, if the circumstances warrant it and the facts support it, will be used by the CPSC to make sure that people comply with that law," Tenenbaum said in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors.

The new law, called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act or CPSIA, was intended to keep lead away from children by banning the metal, except in small amounts, from products for kids 12 years and under. Lead can cause irreversible brain damage.

"I plan to enforce the CPSIA," said Tenenbaum, adding that "we will follow the statute."

The law has been met with criticism and confusion from small businesses, charities, and others who have complained about expensive testing requirements and vague and sometimes mixed guidance from the agency on whether they can sell certain items.

Tenenbaum said the commission plans to offer common-sense guidance to business on how the law applies to kids' products.

The commission voted late Monday on guidance for industry regarding the tracking labels they will be required to put on children's products beginning Aug. 14.

Manufacturers will now be required to have a label, usually somewhere on the product, that provides the name of the company as well as city and country where it was manufactured. It would also have other identifiers, such as batch and lot numbers, Tenenbaum said.

August 14th also ushers in a new limit for the amount of lead allowed in children's toys and other products. The limit will be 300 parts per million -- half of what is currently allowed.

Tenenbaum said the industry has had adequate time to prepare for the new requirements. She said the agency is also reaching out to those who make and sell crafts and other small-time makers of children's products to teach them how to ensure the raw materials they use are safe.

Tenenbaum addressed several other issues, saying:

--The agency has contracted with two private laboratories to perform tests on drywall imported from China. For months now, people in Florida, Louisiana and other states have complained about drywall from China that they say is making them sick and turning copper and other wiring in their homes black. They also blame it for a "rotten egg" smell in their homes.

CPSC is leading the federal investigation, but Tenenbaum said that so far no one has concluded that the drywall is directly linked to the health issues and corrosion problems.

"It's a mystery why we haven't been able to be more definitive at this point," she said.

The commission expects to have results from its testing sometime in September.

--The commission is working on a plan, expected in September, that would spell out specifics for a new database that the public could search to see complaints and concerns about consumer products. Consumers, she said, could file reports about products that other people could see before purchasing a new item. Tenenbaum said all complaints would be screened to ensure they're legitimate.

--The agency plans to open its first overseas office, in China. Tenenbaum said a small staff would be based at the U.S. embassy there and would help educate Chinese officials about product standards. Many toys involved in a string of recalls in 2007 came from China.

Associated Press writer Natasha Metzler contributed to this report.

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