The CPSC’s Newest Tactic: Intimidation

Recently the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took the first steps in more than a decade toward banning the sale of a type of product. A series of stop-sale orders on high-powered, rare-earth magnets were issued to manufacturers, the first time the commission has proposed a ban on an entire product category since 2001.

We’ve been reporting on this story since November 2011, when the commission issued a broad warning regarding the ball bearing magnets. At that time, the commission was working with the makers of Buckyballs to try and educate consumers. Less than a year later, the CPSC abandoned collaboration for regulation. The result: 11 of 13 companies voluntarily pulled their products from shelves rather than face fines. The two that didn’t are facing government lawsuits that could put them out of business.

There’s a belief among some that these actions are an aberration, that the CPSC is singling out this particular product because it is dangerous, but that would be ignoring trends in recent history. Since 2007, the “Year of the Recall” when more than 400 items were recalled, many of them children’s toys or items made in China, the CPSC has been more aggressive in monitoring, penalizing and publicizing offending items. As Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the CPSC said, “I have made it clear to our staff that all of our regulatory options should be on the table when we seek to protect consumers from harm.”

Those regulatory options include bans, which have not been used often, as well as recalls, which for the past five years have been issued almost daily. Take a look at an example from yesterday: plastic water bottles were recalled by H&M because they posed a potential choking hazard. In 2,900 products, there was one instance of a spout coming off a bottle. There were zero incidents of injury.

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