Lowell Center for Sustainable ProductionPhoto
spacerHomeAbout the CenterOur WorkPublicationsEventsPersonnelPressContactspacer

N E W S   R E L E A S E

February 19, 2008

Contact: Karen Angelo 978-447-1438

Report Identifies 4 Reasons Toys and Other Products with Hazardous Chemicals Slip Through the Regulatory System

Companion Report Offers Solutions for States

LOWELL – A UMass Lowell Center for Sustainable Production report released today identifies four key reasons why the regulatory system for protecting the public from toxic substances in toys and other products is inadequate, allowing potentially harmful products to end up on store shelves.

“Presumption of Safety: Limits of Federal Policies on Toxic Substances in Consumer Products”— researched and written by the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at UMass Lowell – untangles the alphabet soup of government regulations and the agencies responsible for overseeing consumer product safety laws.

The report finds that the government agency with the majority of responsibility for implementing consumer product regulations, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is limited in authority by outdated regulations. Specifically, the four reasons why consumers may not be adequately protected from hazardous chemicals in toys and other products are:

  1. Voluntary Standards. Consumer product safety laws force the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to rely largely on voluntary consumer product standards developed by industry groups, yet the CPSC has a limited capacity to ensure compliance with these voluntary standards and guidelines. Recent recalls suggest that voluntary assurances of product safety do not work in practice.
  2. Limited Budget and Staff. The CPSC is charged with assuring the safety of more than 15,000 types of products with half of its original budget and limited staff, especially for concerns about toxic chemicals.
  3. Burdensome, Reactive Policies. Existing laws and policies regulating toxic chemicals in toys and consumer products are reactive in nature. To regulate or restrict hazardous chemicals in toys or consumer products, the CPSC has to undergo a lengthy, costly and time-consuming process that must balance health protective actions with costs to industry. Thus, few chemicals are actually regulated in consumer products.
  4. Testing and Safety Not Required. The system lacks requirements for toy and consumer product manufacturers to test products for most chemical hazards or to demonstrate the safety of chemicals in products. This problem is compounded by the significant lack of toxicity information available for most chemicals in commerce. This lack of information is treated as evidence of safety rather than ensuring the health and safety of consumers in the face of uncertainty.

Options at the State Level

With little federal action in the United States to reform chemicals management policies in 30 years, the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production also released today a resource guide for states, and ultimately federal reform, titled “Options for State Chemicals Policy Reform: A Resource Guide.”

“Our intent in releasing these two reports together is to illustrate the problems of our current systems while providing solutions,” said Joel Tickner, assistant professor at UMass Lowell. “I believe that we can begin to modernize our chemicals policies throughout the United States so that they support innovation in safer products, even if it’s not at the federal level. The alternative, which I find unacceptable, is to sit idly while hazardous substances continue to invade our homes, bodies and communities.”

The policymaker resource guide includes dozens of chemical policy option examples that demonstrate the success, or failure, of options implemented in the past. Both reports can be downloaded at www.sustainableproduction.org.


UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health. UML offers its 11,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu.

The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at UMass Lowell uses rigorous science, collaborative research, and innovative strategies to promote communities, workplaces, and products that are healthy, humane, and respectful of natural systems. The Center is composed of faculty, staff, and graduate students at the University of Massachusetts Lowell who work collaboratively with citizen groups, workers, businesses, institutions, and government agencies to build healthy work environments, thriving communities, and viable businesses that support a more sustainable world.