Reports

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2010 Trouble in Toyland report is the 25th annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety.  In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

Over the past twenty-five years, the PIRG report has identified hazards in toys and children’s products that could cause an acute injury from small parts that pose a choking hazard, to strangulation hazards from cords on pull toys, to laceration hazards from edges that are too sharp.  Our report has led to at least 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped us to advocate for stronger federal laws to protect children from unsafe products.

While most product safety regulations address mechanical hazards, the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act began to address certain toxic chemicals in toys and children’s products that represent chronic hazards, such as lead and phthalates. 

In April 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel – a group of three distinguished experts appointed by President Bush to evaluate the nation’s cancer program – raised the alarm about our ubiquitous exposure to toxic chemicals. “The American people – even before they are born – are bombarded continually,” the panel wrote. In effect, our lives have become a giant, uncontrolled experiment on the relationship between toxic chemicals and our health.

American children today grow up surrounded by synthetic chemicals. Their food containers are made with plastic. Their homes and yards are treated with pesticides. Their families use cosmetics and personal-care products that contain hundreds of manufactured additives. The furniture and electronics in their homes contain flame retardant chemicals.

As their minds and bodies grow and develop, children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals that could affect proper development. Because children have a natural tendency to touch and mouth objects as a way of exploring the world around them, harmful chemicals can leach out of these products, enter their bodies and cause health problems.  Chemicals have become such a close part of our lives that scientists can find more than 100 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the bodies of every mother and child. 

There are now more than 83,000 industrial chemicals on the market in the United States. But very little is known about most of the chemicals in commerce. The health effects of almost half of the major industrial chemicals have not been studied at all.

In 2008, Congress responded to an unprecedented wave of recalls of toys and other children’s products by passing the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission since it was established during the Nixon Administration.  By passing the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008, Congress not only expanded the agency’s budget, it also gave the CPSC more tools to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable and speed recalls, moved toward limiting toxic lead and phthalates in certain toys and children’s products, and greatly improved import surveillance.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, together with stronger enforcement from the CPSC, has made good steps in the right direction toward reducing mechanical toy hazards like choking, and chemical hazards from lead and phthalates in certain products. However, there are tens of thousands of toxic chemicals that are still not regulated for the many uses in our children’s lives. 

In researching the report, we visited numerous national chain toy stores and other retailers in September and October 2010 to identify potentially dangerous toys. We analyzed CPSC notices of recalls and other regulatory actions to identify trends in toy safety.  This year, we focused our investigation on hazards from toys and other children’s products that contain the toxic chemicals lead and phthalates, and other metals restricted by the CPSIA.  Because choking continues to be the leading cause of death related to toys, we have also identified toys that may pose a choking hazard to children.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Budget

Toward Common Ground

Our nation faces unprecedented fiscal challenges, as the commitments we’ve made now and into the future far outpace our fiscal capacity. Congress, the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and citizens across the country must grapple with very difficult decisions about how we can put our fiscal house in order. It will be critical to reach out across party lines and across ideological persuasions to achieve common-sense reforms that can bring us closer to balance.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and National Taxpayers Union (NTU) have joined together to propose a list of 30 specific recommendations to reform our future spending commitments. If enacted in their entirety, these changes would save taxpayers over $600 billion in total by 2015, the target date for the Fiscal Commission to reduce our publicly-held debt-to- GDP ratio to a more sustainable level of 60 percent. While our organizations have often differed about the proper regulatory scope of government and a host of tax policies, we are united in the belief that we spend far too much money on ineffective programs that do not serve the best interests of the American people.

The cuts deal with specific reforms to entitlement programs, defense spending, wasteful subsidies and a broad range of discretionary items of a smaller scale. While these proposals won’t get us all the way there, it is a start that could establish some common ground and make government more accountable in the process.

Some of the suggestions are aimed at procedural improvements, like collecting errant payments for Supplemental Security Income or housing subsidies. Others seek to eliminate programs that are wasteful or unnecessary, like the Market Access Program, which helps some of the most profitable companies in the world advertise their products abroad.

Every item on the list includes a five-year savings estimate for the Commission’s 2015 target. Those estimates are backed up by authoritative official sources such as the Congressional Budget Office, Government Accountability Office, Joint Committee on Taxation, or the Office of Management and Budget, as well as bipartisan panels and audit agencies. The recommendations are specific, detailed, and actionable items that Congress could pursue right now to reduce spending.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Health Care

The Young Person's Guide to Health Insurance

For people in their late teens and twenties, getting health insurance can be a lot like a lottery . . .

If you’re lucky, your parents have a good plan that covers you while you are in school or your employer picks up the tab. If you’re not, your options shrink to two: a plan offering good coverage that you can’t afford, or a plan you can afford that covers little to nothing.

Starting this year, under the new health care law, young people will gain access to new, previously unavailable health insurance options. To make the most of those new choices, you need to learn the facts. This guide is designed to help you do that.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Food

Recipe for Disaster

The recall of more than 500 million eggs from two Iowa egg farms is the largest but not the last of 85 recalls that have taken place in the year since food safety reform moved to the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) on July 30, 2009. However, the Senate’s version of the bill – the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) – has languished while waiting for time on the Senate’s floor schedule.

To assess one cost of that delay, Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group studied recalls of foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from August 1, 2009, to the present. That study found that a wide variety of foods were recalled in the 13-month period due to contamination by Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and other bacteria. In several cases, the recalls involved products that found their way into other foods, expanding into a “rolling recall” with successive announcements as more contaminated products were identified by FDA. The recalls involved tons of foods, including many namebrand products from more than 150 companies.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Georgia's Transportation Crossroads

Georgia is in a transportation crisis. Roadway congestion wastes time and energy, tailpipe pollution causes health and environmental problems, and our oil dependence only grows.
 
Expanding public transportation can provide more Georgians with alternatives to driving, while addressing these problems and laying the foundation for an efficient transportation system for the 21st century.
 
Public transportation already helps hundreds of thousands of Georgians get where they need to go. Beyond saving consumers time and money, transit systems take cars off the road, cut air pollution, provide a dependable way to get around or help in a pinch, and jump-start economic growth.    
 
But Georgia’s transit systems, despite their importance, are disjointed, underfunded, and fall far short of their potential. Scores of good transit projects are waiting in the wings, while the problems affecting our transportation system only multiply.
 
Georgia must adopt a new course and develop a vision for transit in the 21st century that will fix the state’s historical shortchanging of transit. By funding and executing key public transportation projects, such as those identified by the Concept 3 and Connect Atlanta plans, we can drive growth and foster healthier communities statewide. In a time of increasingly limited public funds, Georgia must spend its transportation dollars where they have the most impact. For that reason, the state must reshape its transportation planning and funding priorities to address its decades-long underinvestment in transit.
 
Georgia’s car-centered transportation system is leading us to drive more, use more gas, spend more on fuel, lose more time stuck in traffic, and create more global warming pollution than a decade ago. 

  • Georgia residents drove roughly 109 billion miles in 2008, more than 50 percent more miles than they drove in 1990.
  • By 2007, drivers in the state were consuming 19 percent more fuel annually than they did in 1997. The price of gasoline jumped 91 percent over the same period, causing Georgians to increase the money they spent on gasoline by more than $6 billion.
  • Atlanta drivers lost 135 million hours to traffic congestion in 2007, a 49 percent increase from 1997. The wasted time and fuel cost Atlanta $3 billion in 2007.
  • Georgia’s transportation network increased its carbon dioxide pollution by more than 37 percent between 1990 and 2007.

Despite many shortcomings, public transit in Georgia is already paying dividends by saving money, reducing congestion, and cutting global warming pollution.

  • In the Atlanta region alone, public transit saved 88 million gallons of oil in 2006, translating to consumer savings of $230 million at the pump.
  • In 2007, public transportation prevented more than 10.5 million hours of traffic delay in Atlanta and saved the area economy more than $225 million in wasted time and productivity.
  • In 2006, Georgia’s public transit systems together avoided 670,000 metric tons of global warming pollution. This is the equivalent of removing more than 130,000 cars from the road.
  • More Georgians are taking advantage of these benefits. Nearly 9 percent more passengers rode Atlanta’s MARTA system in 2008 than in 2007.

Georgia needs to rethink its transportation system for the future and invest in efficient and clean public transportation. There are many worthwhile transit projects that can meet transportation needs in the state.
 
A 21st century transportation system for Georgia should include (not in order of priority):
 
1) Better Transit in Metro Atlanta

  • Commuter rail service to Athens, Bremen and Macon: Commuter rail service between Atlanta and Macon would connect two growing regional hubs. A Bremen/Douglasville line would expand access to rapidly developing suburbs, and the “Brain Train” from Atlanta to Athens would link an increasingly busy bioscience corridor and thousands of university students and professors with downtown Atlanta – as well as with each other.
  • Light rail service along the Atlanta BeltLine: Ringing the city with a belt of light rail would draw together neighborhoods on Atlanta’s perimeter, focus future development, make transit a viable alternative for trips along the BeltLine by eliminating the need to first travel into downtown, and serve as the backbone for a robust transit system in the future.
  • Improve local transit service and provide better transit connections: Expanding the MARTA system, building new light rail lines and increasing bus rapid transit service can fill gaps in the local transit network while improving connections between transit services, making it easier for passengers to reach a wide range of destinations in the metro Atlanta area.
  • Build a streetcar along Peachtree Street: Clean, electric streetcars can help revitalize downtown districts. On Peachtree Street, a streetcar can help renew the downtown and address growing residential and commercial demand for efficient local transportation, while also bolstering Peachtree’s reputation as Atlanta’s most notable destination street.   

2) Transit Between and Within Other Cities

  • Improve transit in smaller cities: Improved transit in smaller cities and suburbs, using a variety of transit systems such as light rail, bus rapid transit, and express bus services, would give residents local transit options beyond the automobile.  
  • Expand intercity passenger rail service: Regional passenger rail service can connect people and activity centers around the state, linking cities such as Albany, Dalton, Savannah and Valdosta with Macon and Atlanta.   

3) High-speed Rail

  • Build a high-speed “bullet train” network for the Southeast: High-speed rail along federally designated corridors would connect cities like Atlanta, Macon and Savannah with each other and with out-of-state points like Birmingham, Chattanooga, Charlotte, and Greenville, while providing a rapid alternative to travel through congested highways and airports.

To address our transportation crisis, Georgia needs bold vision and a smart plan. The state should:

• Lay out a clear and compelling vision for transit in the 21st century. With a strong vision and commitment to invest in transit as the sensible way forward, Georgia can build an integrated public transportation network to meet transportation needs and solve problems for residents in cities and towns around the state.

• Provide stable funding to make the vision a reality. Georgia uses state budget funds to pay for highway and road projects, but is one of the only states in the country that leaves counties to raise the capital for transit. As a result, transit in Georgia has been underfunded for decades. A bold new vision for transit in Georgia must be paired with dedicated, adequate and sustained funding from regional as well as state-level sources.

• Urge Congress to enact a new federal transportation funding law. The new law should prioritize investing new capital in public transit, fixing existing roads and bridges rather than building more highways, and spending taxpayers’ money more wisely by using federal dollars to invest in high-priority transportation solutions.

• Reform state allocation of federal transportation dollars. Georgia should focus federal money on a statewide list of priority transportation projects, rather than dividing up the majority of the funds among the state’s congressional districts.

• Coordinate with other Southeast states to develop better public transportation infrastructure throughout the region. Collaborating with both local and state decision-makers on a regional high-speed rail system would be an excellent start.

 

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