The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is a United States federal agency. It is charged with overseeing the safety of products sold within the national borders that are not regulated by other agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. It was created by the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972 and was revised and expanded by subsequent legislation in 2008. As a federal agency, its regulations are backed by national laws. The CPSC’s national headquarters are located in Bethesda, Maryland, and its testing laboratories are in nearby Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for ensuring that companies in the U.S. do not sell unsafe products. Unsafe is defined as a product that could cause injury or death during normal use. The CPSC maintains a hotline that consumers can use to report problems with products. If a problem is reported or otherwise detected, agency specialists will test the product in laboratory conditions. If the agency determines that the product is indeed unsafe, it can issue a recall or ban the item outright, resulting in the product being effectively removed from circulation in the United States.
More than 15,000 kinds of products are regulated by the CPSC, including toys, tools, and common household chemicals. The CPSC does not regulate vehicles, food, and medical devices or commercial chemicals such as pesticides. Other federal agencies have the jurisdiction to regulate these items. Without approval by the CPSC or other agencies, a product cannot be sold in the United States. The CPSC claims a 30-percent decline in product-related deaths and injuries in the U.S. in the years 1980-2010.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission also has jurisdiction over products imported into the United States. For example, a popular item sold around the world is a hollow chocolate egg containing a variety of surprise toys inside. This item has never been sold in the U.S., however, because the CPSC determined that it presented a choking hazard to children. In 2007, numerous toys imported from China were found to contain lead paint, which can be poisonous if handled or ingested. In the resulting national furor, the U.S. Congress passed new legislation substantially expanding the scope and staff of the CPSC.
As with all government agencies, the decisions of the Consumer Product Safety Commission sometimes cause controversy. A 2003 crackdown on combustible chemicals led some to charge that the agency’s actions would discourage amateur and aspiring chemists from pursuing the field. After the lead paint fiasco in 2007, toy companies feared that new regulations could put them out of business. In an increasingly dangerous world, the CPSC finds that it must walk a fine line when legislating safety.