Some goods judged unsafe for use in the United States may now be shipped abroad, due to a reversal of a long-standing export policy by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it was announced yesterday.
The policy change will allow manufacturers that produce goods that are found to violate U.S. government flammability standards to export their products under most circumstances.
The commission, by a 4-to-1 vote, concluded that importing countries, not U.S. regulators, should decide whether to ban hazardous products. Commissioner Edith Barksdale Sloan cast the dissenting vote.
CPSC Chairman Nancy Harvey Steorts said, "In my own estimation, it allows the countries themselves to make the decision if they want the product to come in or not. It gives them an opportunity to decide for themselves . . . rather than dictating U.S. policy to them," she said.
Two consumer groups--Consumers Union and Public Citizen Health Research Group--opposed the policy change, saying consumers overseas will be exposed to hazards deemed unsafe for Americans.
CU also said the decision reverses a 30-year-old federal policy.
"The decision erases an important deterrent against the distribution of unsafe products to American consumers by providing a secondary market for manufacturers to dump their mistakes," a CU spokesman said.
CPSC said the commissioners "specifically determined the new interpretation of the Flammable Fabrics Act will not adversely affect public health and safety."
Allen Greenberg, of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, said the change emphasizes the need for a change in the Flammable Fabrics Act and other such statutes to prevent exportation of substandard products.
"There's a real need to change the law so products that cannot be sold in the United States cannot be exported," he said.
He said that the policy sounds "paternalistic" and that most countries are not equipped to set safe standards for themselves. "I don't think a lot of countries have the regulatory mechanisms to evaluate the products and the problems with the products," Greenberg said.
The policy change does increase the consistency of U.S. policy on exporting goods. Manufacturers who intend to export their goods do not have to meet the U.S. safety standards. Essentially, the CPSC no longer requires that a product be intended for export at the time of its manufacture.
The policy decision evolved from a 1980 CPSC complaint against Imperial Carpet Mills Inc., a carpet manufacturer whose products did not meet flammability standards, according to the commission.
No decision has been made in the case. Rather, the commission established new guidelines based on its interpretation of the 1978 amendments to the Flammable Fabrics Act. Manufacturers who decide to export goods that fail to meet flammability standards must properly label their products and notify the CPSC within 30 days of exportation. The commission then will notify the country about the shipment; if the country refuses the shipment, the manufacturer will not be allowed to export his product.