WASHINGTON — Federal regulators said they may tell retailers not to buy 5-gallon plastic buckets that do not have labels warning about the dangers of children drowning in the containers.
The Plastic Shipping Container Institute, which began a voluntary labeling program after government officials threatened action several years ago, is not sure what legal authority the Consumer Product Safety Commission has to give such advice. But the group does not oppose it, said David Baker, a Washington lawyer for PSCI.
PSCI's labeling program has helped cut drowning deaths from between 37 and 50 deaths a year in 1990 to about 20 now, Baker said. Close to 100 percent of buckets made by PSCI members have labels, but a CPSC study found that 27 percent of PSCI customers such as paint companies and others who fill the buckets do not sell labeled buckets, he said.
That CPSC survey did not distinguish between large and small companies, even though larger companies that use the bulk of the buckets are more likely to label, Baker said.
PSCI of Oconomowoc, Wis., said it represents about 90 percent of the 5-gallon bucket-making industry. Baker spoke March 10 at a PSCI meeting in Washington.
Renae Rauchschwalbe, a compliance officer with CPSC, said industry compliance has been ``pretty good'' and mandatory CPSC standards probably are not needed, even though unlabeled buckets still can be found fairly easily.
``Right now, investigators are routinely picking up buckets that are not labeled,'' she said. ``They don't go out of their way, but if they are in a retail store and notice that they are not labeled,'' they buy them and CPSC contacts the company.
She said more information is needed about the effectiveness of the labels.
As of April 1997, CPSC had reports of 13 children drowning in labeled plastic buckets since labeling began in 1989, she said.
CPSC hopes to complete a study on label effectiveness by the end of the year, based on onsite investigations of drowning incidents.
Baker said of the 20 drownings last year, two were in labeled buckets.