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New Federal Database Displays Consumers' Product Safety Complaints

But are they accurate?

The database's pages display a disclaimer that reads: "CPSC does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of the Publicly Available Consumer Product Safety Information Database on SaferProducts.gov, particularly with respect to information submitted by people outside of CPSC."

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has also been critical. In a filing to the commission, the industry group said that 30 percent of the complaints passed on to companies in a test phase had not been adequately filtered to ensure that they involved "harm" as defined by the law. Companies said they received complaints about products that they did not make, and that commission staff did not acknowledge those errors.

Correcting the vetting process is "essential to fundamental fairness," Rosario Palmieri, vice president for infrastructure, legal and regulatory policy at NAM, wrote in the filing. The association supports the idea of a database but does not believe that "a poorly-functioning database serves the public interest."

Important consumer tool

Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America, calls industry opposition an attempt to cling to a status quo "that has been good for manufacturers at the expense of consumers, who have been in the dark. The database is a very important consumer tool. Consumers need to know that it's out there and that it's a resource for them."

She predicts it will help create a class of more educated consumers with information at their fingertips when deciding on purchases. "We also hope it can be a place where trends can be spotted early so that safety measures can be taken sooner rather than later."

In the past, she said, regulators have sometimes received 50 or 60 reports of a hazardous product before ordering a recall. CPSC encourages people to visit the website for themselves. "We believe the database has the potential to save a life, " she said.

In one current posting, a woman says that her 10-month-old son choked to death between the side rail and headboard of a ChildCraft crib in 1997 (there is no limit to how old a complaint incident can be). The mother writes that she is aware CPSC ordered a recall of the model, but that she "felt compelled to post on this database because ChildCraft drop side cribs are still in homes and day cares." There was no posted response from ChildCraft.

Talia Schmidt is an intern with the AARP Bulletin.

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