A USA TODAY investigation found that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) pulled its toy police from ports around the country for over 6 months because of the threat of COVID-19, causing a major drop in safety inspections. This is a follow up from our Most Dangerous Toys of 2020 post, further warning parents, grandparents, and gift-givers to research a toy’s potential hazards before clicking the “buy now” button.
CPSC inspectors are supposed to intercept bad toys and other household products before they reach the market.
“Anything that could potentially harm consumers, my job is to stop it here,”
– CPCS compliance investigator from a video posted on the agency’s website.
The leaders of the federal agency made the decision without warning consumers or full disclosure to Congress. They continued the shutdown at the ports and a government testing laboratory until September, including spring and summer months that were their inspectors’ busiest in 2019.
USA TODAY found an extraordinary lapse in safety surveillance during the pandemic which was hidden from the public. From April to September, during the COVID-19 closures, the agency issued a fourth of the violations it did during the same period a year earlier.
CPSC inspectors performed an average of 3,000 monthly screenings at the ports at the beginning of 2020, according to internal agency data. By May, that number had fallen to about 100 and in August, they only performed 47. As of December 2020, the records show inspectors were still not working in five of the 18 ports they normally patrol, Chicago, New York City, Savannah, Buffalo, New York, and Norfolk, Virginia.
Target, Dollar Tree, Walgreens, Amazon, and UPS were among the large wholesale distributors, shipping companies, and name-brand retailers who brought in products from overseas while the CSPS investigators were away from their posts this year, not screening for hazards that wholesalers and retailers are supposed to test for themselves.
Shoppers of these stores and others that import products will have no way to differentiate good products from any bad items that have slipped in. Experts fear it could take years to discover the dangerous items that have been allowed into American homes.
If you notice any problems, experts say to immediately report them to a CPSC website where such complaints are publicly posted: saferproducts.gov.