The 1972 law that created the Consumer Product Safety Commission(CPSC) states that the commission was created to "protect the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths." This quote is often restated by the CPSC and is the supposed mission of the agency.
Recently, however, the CPSC has stepped beyond "unreasonable risk" to the promotion of a risk-free environment. In several recent press releases announcing product recalls, the CPSC now states that it is attempting to "prevent the possibility of injury." Many of these recalls are supported with anecdotal incidents and often disregard sound science. Although these recalls are technically voluntary, businesses are almost compelled to cooperate with CPSC actions out of fear of having their company's reputation tarnished by CPSC accusations.
Examples of the commission's unnecessary recalls are plentiful. When Consumer Alert monitored CPSC press releases from April 1 to July 9 the Commission issued statements of 33 recalls on products that had caused no injuries.
Often, these press releases on products that have not caused injuries attempt to justify the recalls with outlandish scenarios that would be required for the product to cause any harm to consumers. Instead of relying on scientific testing, it often seems as if the CPSC dreamed up a series of occurrences that could potentially make an innocuous product dangerous. However, because there were no injuries reported, these scenarios have never actually occurred in real life.
A good example of one of these unlikely scenarios deals with a rolling clock push toy. This toy was recalled because it could cause an injury if the following series of events occurred. First, parents would have to ignore the "not for children under 3 years" warning label and allow the toy to be used near a very young child. Next, someone would have to drop the toy hard enough to break it into small pieces. Presumably, this person would have to be an older child or an adult in order to achieve the height neccessary to shatter the toy. Whoever broke the toy would then have to leave the pieces lying around until a small child came along. Finally, an unobserved child would have to pick up a small piece of the broken toy and attempt to eat it, which could result in the child choking.
Since no know injuries have occurred with this toy, this scenario has probably never occurred in real life. However, the CPSC found it reason enough to issue a recall of 15,000 of these toys.
Some of the other products recalled during the four month period CA monitored the CPSC had been on the market for an exceptionally long time, up to 50 years in the case of Fiebing's Leather Dye Solvent, which was recalled for not having a child-proof cap. Clearly, a product that has never caused an injury in its 50 year history is not posing an "unreasonable risk of injury or death." Instead, by demanding a recall, the CPSC created an unreasonable cost to both consumers and businesses. Further, their continuous recalls are limiting choice by scaring consumers away from safe products and are wasting resources that could be used to address real risks.