An attempt to issue a ban on the export of Tris-treated garments was stalled yesterday as members of the Consumer Product Safety Commission weighted legal arguments concerning the agency's jurisdiction over exports.
On Wednesday, commission member Edith Barksdale Sloan, responding to reports that several domestic manufacturers has begun dumping overseas children's sleepwear treated with the cancer-causing agent Tris, asked her fellow commissioners to vote immediately on extending the domestic ban on such goods to include exports.
A meeting to take that vote was scheduled for May 11.
Yesterday, Commissioners Barbara Franklin and David Pittle said they would not decide until they had time to review legal arguments prepared by the commission's General Counsel's office.
Those arguments were released yesterday, but presented both sides of the issue. The final page of the 15-page report was not released to the press because it contained the staff's recommendation for legal action.
But in the first 14 pages, staff attorney Alan Shakin interpreted the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Federal Hazardous Substance Act and the Flammable Fabrics Act, all of which contain provisions affecting exports.
The CPSC banned the domestic sale of Tris-treated children's sleepwear a year ago and last October voted a policy that they did not have jurisdiction over exports.
Tris is a flame retardant that the government had earlier ordered manufacturers o put into the sleepwear.
Because of that, there is a bill in Congress that would reimburse manufacturers for all or some of the estimated $50 million they had to spend to buy back all of the Tris-treated garments from wholesalers and retailers who had received them.
Until a few months ago, according to manufacturers and the CPSC, none of those garments had left the country. Most of the manufacturers were storing them until the indemnification issue was resolved.
But because of recent reports that the commission was seeking again to try to shut off the export route, several manufacturers began selling to exporters at distress prices, usually one-sixth of original value.
The staff-prepared legal arguments point out that the commission has jurisdiction over any garments produced for domestic sale, which includes all of the Tris-treated clothing. But, it points out, another provision exempts "any consumer product which can be shown to be manufactured, sold or held for sale for export from the United States."
"An export policy would be helpful to the staff and to the public," the report states. It outlines three possible options on the Tris issue. The first would have the commission ban all exports; the second states that the commission has no authority to ban exports, and the third calls for the CPSC staff to move for clearer legislation on the matter.
In a speech to the floor of Congress on Wednesday, Sen. Wendell Ford, (D-Ky.), who is chairman of a Commerce subcommittee that has oversight authority over the CPSC, said:
"This is more than a question of economics. It is a moral question of whether the United States government should allow export of a product which may be harmful for children everywhere."
Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Calif.) said he will introduce an amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act that would give the commission clear authority to ban exports. He said it would be attached to the commission's reauthorization bill in the House, which must pass by May 15.