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Answers? Not for All the Lead in China.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Nancy Nord.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Nancy Nord. "Acting" is part of her title. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lawmakers had just begun to question Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about all that lead showing up in children's toys. Her fellow commissioner Thomas Moore rose from the witness table to depart -- for a dental appointment.

"Are you leaving?" a surprised Nord asked, pausing in her testimony. "Can I come with you?"

"You're facing your own dentist here," pointed out Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

"It's a sad day," Nord replied, "when you'd rather go to the dentist."

Actually, the lawmakers' drilling of Nord made it sound as if every day is a sad one for her agency. Product safety regulators, broke and undermanned, have been powerless to prevent millions of Barbie dolls, Polly Pockets, Dora the Explorers and Thomas the Tank Engines from entering the country from China with lead paint and other defects. Parents -- and therefore lawmakers -- are furious. But instead of showing contrition, Nord treated the lawmakers as if they were impertinent children.

"Are you saying that the Chinese have now adopted a new and different standard when it comes to lead paint?" asked Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the panel examining the issue.

"I think, sir, that that's a question you would really need to put to the Chinese," Nord replied curtly.

Durbin, with some of the offending toys on the table in front of him, asked why the commission didn't do more to block lead in children's jewelry.

"Well, the law is what it is" was Nord's brushoff.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked Nord if she knew what percentage of toys get lead tests.

"No, I don't."

After much hemming and hawing from Nord about her agency's ability to stop dangerous toys coming from China, Brownback got cranky: "Chairman, what I want to hear is you say these products are not going to enter our shores if that's what you continue to find."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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