FOIA requests examine glass bakeware that shatters

Consumer Reports News: December 07, 2010 09:32 AM

When Consumer Reports began a year-long investigation prompted by complaints from our readers and other consumers about glass bakeware unexpectedly shattering, one of our first steps was to obtain copies of reports about this problem filed by consumers with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. To do that, we had to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the agency.

As our story in the January issue of Consumer Reports reveals, we eventually were able to examine 163 incidents, primarily from CPSC reports, in which consumers reported glass bakeware unexpectedly shattering. In some cases it was in the oven, while cooling on a countertop or even while they were holding it, sometimes sending shards of hot glass flying and causing injuries. Only some of the cases seemed to involve clear violations of the bakeware’s instructions. While hundreds of millions of glass dishes are used safely each year, we saw enough incidents to raise concern.

Our investigation also included testing in Consumer Reports’ labs and outside labs. When Pyrex was first marketed in 1915, it was made of a heat-resistant glass called borosilicate. But now Pyrex and Anchor Hocking, the two leading brands of glass bakeware manufactured in the U.S., are both made of soda lime glass, which is less expensive to produce. Manufacturers say heat-strengthened soda lime glass is significantly more resistant to impact breakage.

We purchased samples of European-made Pyrex and Arcuisine Elegance glass bakeware that are made of borosilicate and then tested both types of glass in our lab to see how they compared in extreme laboratory conditions likely to cause breakage. For more on how we tested and what we found, view our video.

Of the shattering incidents we analyzed, 152 came from CPSC files, most obtained in response to our FOIA requests for complaints consumers filed about Pyrex or Anchor Hocking bakeware. Though the CPSC received these requests in early November 2009, it took nearly six months for us to receive incident reports involving Anchor Hocking bakeware and nearly eight months to receive complaints involving Pyrex. The process took so long in part because by law, the CPSC has not been allowed to release copies of complaints without first giving manufacturers an opportunity to comment on them. If companies dispute the release of any information or claim that it is confidential, the CPSC must then review any comments and decide whether to release the information. This results in further delays.

The need to file FOIA requests and slog through this lengthy bureaucratic process to be able to see complaints means that much of the product safety information that’s collected from consumers by the CPSC isn’t always made public.

Fortunately, that’s about to change. Starting in March 2011, safety incident reports about all products regulated by the CPSC are scheduled to become publicly viewable online in a new CPSC database at www.SaferProducts.gov. Consumers will be able to report safety hazards they have experienced, and to research the safety records of products they may own or consider purchasing. The agency describes it as “a critical tool that allows us to partner with consumers, manufacturers, and retailers to keep American families safe.”

We urge consumers who experience problems with glass bakeware unexpectedly shattering to file reports with the CPSC at http://www.cpsc.gov/talk.html, and to share their s tories with us as well here.

Marc Perton


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