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Exploding Toilets: Another Reason for Regulations

J. Mijin Cha

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued a recall for over 2.3 million toilets after hundreds of people were injured. The recall applies to units manufactured between October 1997 and February 2008. Aside from being my own personal nightmare, that is an astonishing amount of manufacturer neglect in terms of number of units affected and duration of time covered. In essence, Flushmate manufactured potentially shoddy units for nearly a decade. Also disturbing is that the units weren't recalled until over 300 incidents were reported. And, the number of actual incidents is likely to be higher given the level of under-reporting.

Going through the CPSC’s website, it seems there are product recalls every month due to electric shock, choking, fire, strangulation, and death risks. Granted, it is impossible to have zero product risk but reading through the recalls, a lot of them seem to just be shoddy manufacturing- like the stroller that was recalled because it entrapped and strangled a child, arguably something that should have been tested for before it was released on the market. Or, the lacrosse helmet whose chin bar breaks causing jaw or facial injury, even though the whole purpose of having the helmet is to protect the face.

These examples further show what happens when the regulatory and oversight system is eroded. The right continues to paint regulations as “job-killers,” even though study after study shows that the benefit of regulations far outweighs the costs. And, the benefits that regulations bestow are often non-monetary—like the benefit of having peace of mind that your toilet won’t explode when you use it. All joking aside, we’ve discussed the difficulty of putting a price tag on clean air or water and other benefits that contribute to quality of life that cannot be monetized.

Looking through how many products are recalled (many, if not all, made abroad) really highlights how our regulatory safety net is being dismantled. The anti-regulatory attacks crow about how regulations impose burdensome costs on businesses but in reality, business profits are being padded while the public is made to bear the cost.