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Dangerous products can kill, but the government often can't tell you


Dangerous products can kill, but the government often can’t tell you. (TND)
Dangerous products can kill, but the government often can’t tell you. (TND)
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It can take months, even years, to get defective and dangerous products off the market, but there is now a movement in Washington D.C. to change that.

Spotlight on America Investigative Correspondent Angie Moreschi looks at what’s being done to address delays in warning the public about dangerous products.

Consumers are being put at risk every day by dangerous, defective products, but the agency that’s supposed to warn us says it often can’t say anything.

“If I knew a product was killing people right now, I couldn't tell you,” Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric told Spotlight on America in an exclusive interview.

See Part 1 of our dangerous product recall coverage in the embed below.

That startling statement from the head of the government agency tasked with protecting consumers from dangerous products; but he says he has no choice.

Before I do that, I need to go back to the company, let them know what we're going to tell the public. If they disagree with us, they have the ability to go and take us to court and prevent that from happening,” Hoehn-Saric said.

Hoehn-Saric says he’s limited by a law many safety advocates call the “gag rule.” It’s Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, which requires companies to be notified at least 15 days before any disclosure, which gives them time to block it in court.

As a result of that potential legal threat, the CPSC often negotiates with the company, which can lead to long delays for products like these:

All those products and several others recently highlighted in a Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) study took years or several months to recall, even though the manufacturers and federal government knew they were dangerous.

Spotlight pressed Hoehn-Saric on why the CPSC doesn’t do more to get the word out.

  • Moreschi: "Can the agency just be more aggressive and put that warning out?: What's the company going to do at that point if indeed children have died?"
  • Hoehn-Saric: "We have to follow the law cause the law is the law."

PRESSURE TO CHANGE THE LAW

Section 6 (b) has been the law for the past 40 years, but now, after several high-profile recall delays have led to deaths, calls for change are growing.

Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal wants the secrecy to end. He’s joining with Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois to introduce the Sunshine in Product Safety Act this month to repeal Section 6(b).

(Section 6b) is absolutely abhorrent and defies the basic purpose of the law. It gives companies veto power," Blumenthal told Spotlight on America. “We’re talking here about real life and death impacts. Repealing 6(b) would remove the strait jackets and restrictions that enable companies now to negotiate about recalls pertaining to their own products.”

This will be the second effort by Blumenthal and Schakowsky to repeal 6(b). They introduced a similar bill in the last session of Congress, but it stalled in committee.

In light of the recent PIRG report showing that deaths and injuries continue to happen as the result of recall delays, Schakowsky says it’s more important than ever to get this done.

We can't have profits over people and children. We're talking about saving lives,” Schakowsky said. “Enough tragedy has happened. We need to eliminate the barrier and make sure the word gets out when a product is found to be dangerous or even deadly.”

TOO LATE FOR TOO MANY

Unfortunately, for Janet McGee, the Sunshine in Product Safety Act is too late. Her 2-year-old son Ted was killed in 2016 when an Ikea Malm dresser tipped over on top of him.

As Spotlight on America has reported, just one month before he died, the CPSC put out this warning video about the danger of furniture tip-overs; but despite knowing at the time that at least two children were already killed by Malm Ikea dressers, did not disclose that information to the public.

  • Moreschi: "How infuriating was it to you to realize other children had died before Teddy?"
  • McGee: "It was heartbreaking. We now know he was actually the seventh child to die."

Finally, four months after Teddy died, Ikea issued a recall of 29 million Malm and other dressers.

How did I not know this product was an unsafe product? If we have created a government agency that is supposed to protect consumers, why are we putting a muzzle on them?" McGee asked, still frustrated that more is not being done to warn consumers."

The Sunshine in Product Safety Act was introduced in the Senate by Blumenthal, last week, and Schakowsky is expected to introduce it on the House side by the end of March.

"WILLING TO PUSH IT"

Hoehn-Saric, who took over the job as Chair of the CPSC in July of 2021, says he understands the frustration of parents and is pushing the agency to take a stronger stand when it comes to warning the public.

That's tremendously tough. You see these things, you talk to the parents that are suffering with their children dying or being injured, sometimes lifelong injuries, and you want to figure out— how do we prevent the next injury and the next death from happening,” Hoehn-Saric said.

Over the past year and a half, the CPSC has stepped up its efforts to warn the public about dangerous products, putting out 13 warnings over the past year and a half. That was more than the previous four years combined.

“We’re willing to push it. Some of those warnings, have turned into recalls because the companies recognize that they don't want us to go out there and simply warn the public about these things and then look bad,” he said.

But despite warnings, many products like Future Motion’s One Wheel remain on the market. It’s linked to at least 4 deaths and multiple serious injuries. Still, the company refuses to issue a recall, saying in this response that the CPSC’s warning is “unjustified and alarmist.”

The CPSC is also proposing a change in how the agency applies Section 6(b) to give more flexibility in announcing dangerous products. The public can submit comments on that proposed change through April. Here is a link to the website for more information.

ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE

Teddy’s mom is now an advocate who fights for product safety and supports the repeal of Section 6(b).

She says it’s painful to continue seeing other children die when product recalls are delayed, like the recent case of the Peloton TreadPlus, where several children were injured and a video of a child being pulled under the treadmill went viral, but no recall was issued until a child died.

In another recent case, Fisher-Price was resistant to CPSC calls for it to issue a recall for its Rock ‘n Play baby sleeper. A recall was finally issued in 2019 and reissued in January of 2023 after more children died. The product is now linked to more than 100 infant deaths.

I can’t in good conscience sit back and just wait for another child to die. It infuriates me. I can’t keep watching it happen.”

Watch Part 1 of our dangerous product recall investigation below.

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