Four-year-old Jarnell Brown died from lead poisoning after he swallowed a bracelet designed for children a year ago and there's not a thing the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can do about it.

The CPSC has a plan to eliminate further child deaths and other complications caused by the dangerous levels of lead often found in cheap costume and children's jewelry.

Unfortunately, the CPSC does not have enough commissioners to enact this and other lifesaving legislation and the White House is unresponsive to the problem.

The CPSC normally consists of three commissioners. But on July 15, 2006, one of the commissioners, Bush-appointed CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton, resigned abruptly to take a high-paying job with a Washington law firm, leaving the agency in the lurch.

As reported yesterday, the CPSC, by law, cannot perform any legislative action because it currently only has two of three commissioners. This legal limbo will continue until President Bush assigns a new candidate and the Senate approves the nominee.

Michael Lemov was a lead staff person responsible to Congress for developing the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972. That act created and governs the CPSC. Lemov said he is "deeply disappointed" by the commission's lack of a quorum.

"At the current state of affairs it is very disappointing," said Lemov, who is now counsel to a D.C. law firm. "It suggests a lack of priority for the Administration. I do not see how a committee without a quorum can accurately oversee the more than 15,000 products on the market."

But as proposed new safety rules pile up on the commission's legislative agenda, the White House has taken no action to fill the vacancy.

White House staffers have not returned three telephone calls from seeking comment on the matter. Representatives of the Senate Consumer Affairs Subcommittee said they know of no action the White House has taken to fill the vacancy.

Lead Poisoning

One of the top legislative reforms going unpassed is the regulation of lead in children's jewelry. There have been more than a dozen lead-related recalls of children's jewelry in the past two years and the two standing commissioners were close to making legislation to lower the percentage of lead that can be found in the jewelry before their powers were stripped Jan. 15.

Children, especially those younger than six, who ingest lead can suffer a handful of serious health conditions according to the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization that fights for consumer health.

The many health risks include:

• Death
• Loss of IQ
• Behavioral problems
• Stunted growth
• Impaired hearing
• Kidney damage
• Mental retardation
• Stomach pain

To make matters worse, there is no way to remove lead once it enters an individual's blood stream.

Leanne Leclair of Markham, Ont. said her 5-year-old son is still suffering from hyperactivity and behavioral problems six months after he swallowed a toy that contained lead.

"The blood in his bowel movement stopped after he passed the toy," Leclair said. "But he is still suffering from behavioral problems. ... I wish they could do something about this. I wish they could change the law."

Other Deadly Hazards

The Commission has also been forced to stall efforts on making upholstered furniture more fire-resistant.

For more than a decade, the CPSC has struggled to find ways to improve upholstered furniture, which tends to light up faster than kindling.

Upholstered furniture, which can be easily ignited by cigarettes or candles, caused an annual average of 9,000 fires, 520 deaths, 1,040 injuries and $242 million dollars in property damage for the years 1999 to 2002, according to a CPSC memo.

A recent CPSC report documents the safety advantages of a fire resistant foam that can be applied to upholstered furniture. But until the commission has a quorum, any action to force manufacturers to update safety standards will have to be set aside.

The two commissioners were also homing in on regulation to redesign portable generators to reduce carbon monoxide poisoning.

Consumers reported 228 portable generator-caused carbon monoxide deaths to the CPSC from 1990-2003 according to a CPSC study.

The commissioners rushed out a warning label for the generators in the final days before they lost their powers. But another proposed rule to mandate a redesign of all portable generators will have to be tabled.

The commissioners were also on their way to implementing safety standards for all-terrain vehicles (ATV).

A recent CPSC report estimates there were 767 deaths and 136,700 injuries related to ATVs in 2003.

CPSC officials met with representatives from ATV manufacturers in October 2006 to discuss new safety standards for the vehicles. But again, any regulation for the industry, which is unlikely to regulate itself, will have to wait until the Senate swears in a new commissioner.

CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson, assured that much of the commission's business is continuing unhampered. However, without a third commissioner it could be months or years before these four rule-making actions, and others, can start saving consumers' lives.