The final day of July 2008 may go down in history as the moment the tides of democracy shifted away from corporate cronyism and back to the people. Even if it's only in my history book, it's a significant occasion nonetheless. A safe toys bill banning six suspect chemical phthalates was overwhelmingly passed by both the House and Senate. House vote: 424 to 1. Senate vote: 89 to 3. It is indeed momentous to have such bipartisan support for something so heavily lobbied against by some of the strongest corporations and corporate alliances around today.
Despite Exxon's intense lobbying and fierce resistent, (since they are the primary manufacturer of the main phthalate used in children's toys) the ban will go into law as soon as GW puts his John Hancock on the bill. It is a chemical that has been shown to disrupt hormone and reproductive systems causing early puberty among other things, and it has already been banned in the EU, fourteen other countries, and states such as California, Washington, and Vermont. How much does Exxon stand to lose? I don't know, but I'm sure it'll be a drop in the bucket compared to their profits from last year, which amounted to $40 billion -- more than any other US company.
The phthalate ban was a small part of a much more comprehensive consumer protection act that overhauls the flawed Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) regulatory authority and power. It all began about two years ago when a 2-year old child in Minneapolis, MN died from ingesting a small trinket on a Reebok shoe that was almost entirely comprised of lead. The following eighteen months after this tragedy saw the largest amounts of toy recalls in the history of the CPSC.
It's simple common sense that toys should be safe for children, but industry profits have been overriding this fundamental necessity for decades now. The CPSC has been slowly degraded through a lack of congressional funding and through increasing financial ties between staff and industry to the point that it had become an agency with no capacity or interest in protecting the populace it was supposed to serve -- you,me, and our children. With this new legislation, the days of the CPSC acting on behalf of industry's best interest are all but over.
Some other poignant pieces of this bill include among other things:
• Virtually eliminating lead from products for children 12 and under, the toughest standards in the world;
• Doubling the agencies budget by 2014 and giving it more power to oversee testing and enforce penalties on violators;
• Requiring pre-market testing from unbiased laboratories to ensure compliance (how novel to not have our children be the guinea pigs);
• Providing whistle-blower protection to staff who report potential hazards; and
• Requiring the CPSC to set up a user-friendly database where government agencies, childcare providers, doctors, parents, or essentially anyone can report an injury, illness, death or risk related to products.
Many NGO's and people supporting this legislation are excited by this unprecedented moment. But this is a moment all Americans and future generations can celebrate. A moment where selfless dedication to healthy generations prevailed.