September 23, 2007

Just Ship It Abroad

Back in 1979, a fledgling publication by the name of Mother Jones published a package of stories with the headline "The Corporate Crime of the Century," which described how U.S. businesses were being allowed to export products overseas that had been deemed unsafe for the domestic market. Some of the examples were absolutely appalling:
* After the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device killed at least 17 women in the United States, the manufacturer withdrew it from the domestic market. It was sold overseas after the American recall and is still in common use in some countries.

* Lomotil, an effective anti-diarrhea medicine sold only by prescription in the U.S. because it is fatal in amounts just slightly over the recommended doses, was sold over the counter in Sudan, in packages proclaiming it was "used by astronauts during Gemini and Apollo space flights" and recommended for use by children as young as 12 months.

* An undisclosed number of farmers and over 1,000 water buffalos died suddenly in Egypt after being exposed to leptophos, a chemical pesticide which was never registered for domestic use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but was exported to at least 30 countries.

* 450,000 baby pacifiers of the type that has caused choking deaths have been exported by at least five manufacturers since a ban was proposed by the [Consumer Product Safety Commission]. 120,000 teething rings that did not meet recently established CPSC standards were cleared for export and are on sale right now in Australia.
And so on. The investigation sparked an uproar—particularly with the revelation that the State Department was offering direct support for this practice—and spurred all sorts of legislative changes, especially after the Washington Post confirmed the magazine's story four months later (although the Post refrained from calling such dumping a "crime," since that wouldn't be very objective, now would it?)

Anyhow, I'm only dredging this up now because the Sacramento Bee just did a major investigation that appears to have identified a very similar scandal at the modern-day Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has come under fire lately after the recall of lead-contaminated toys from China. To wit:
Investigative Report: U.S. ships unsafe products
Since long before China furor, federal agency has OK'd exporting goods banned in America.

The Bee found that between October 1993 and September 2006, the CPSC received 1,031 requests from companies to export products the agency had found unsafe for American consumers. The CPSC approved 991 of those requests, or 96 percent.
A return to 1970s-era dumping? Well, it's actually hard to say. For one, the Bee couldn't determine how many of those requests are from U.S. companies dumping unsafe products overseas, and how many of them are merely requests to ship unsafe goods back to their country of origin, or what have you. In one instance, an L.A.-based company was allowed to ship art materials to Venezuela that had been deemed unsafe for American kids, but the company insists that it had merely received the supplies from China by mistake and was just passing them along. Still, even the CPSC's commissioner thinks there's a problem here.

(Of course, with everything the agency is being criticized for right now, this one is probably low on the list of things Congress will investigate. See also this.)
-- Brad Plumer 7:45 PM || ||