NEW YORK'S sewers are supposedly full of...


NEW YORK'S sewers are supposedly full of alligators that started out as pets but were flushed down the toilets when they got too large, according to a popular "urban legend" that has taken on a life of its own.

In Washington, a similar whopper has developed about a federal regulation involving buckets.

Supposedly, the Occupation Safety and Health Administration imposed a rule requiring all five-gallon buckets to be manufactured to leak so that toddlers won't drown in them.

In a radio interview on WHJU-FM during "Morning Edition" on June 28, Maryland 2nd District Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. repeated this story as evidence of the nonsensical nature of federal regulations. He even noted that the regulation involving the bucket was 105 pages long.

Mr. Ehrlich is wrong, wrong, wrong!

OSHA never issued such a regulation, according to a special assistant to OSHA's director. She said bucket safety was actually under the purview of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Upon learning that 228 children drowned in buckets and another 30 nearly drowned in a three-month period in 1984, the CPSC did indeed look into the question of toddlers drowning in buckets, according to Richard Frost, the agency's deputy director of public affairs.

On July 8, 1994, the CPSC published a notice of proposed rule-making in the Federal Register. The notice discussed the findings and possible solutions -- including buckets with removable liners -- to prevent future drownings.

After the notice appeared, CPSC and the industry negotiated a voluntary agreement that notices would be pasted on buckets warning parents of the possible danger to toddlers. In addition, the plastic bucket industry agreed to conduct a $500,000 education campaign. As a result of this voluntary agreement, no rule was ever issued.

Richard Cross, Mr. Ehrlich's press secretary, said the congressman used the anecdote to illustrate a mind set in Washington that is quick to try to regulate common sense. "The question is whether this type of regulation is cost-effective," Mr. Cross said.

The other question is: If Congress is going to legislate by anecdote, shouldn't its members -- especially the freshmen -- get their stories straight?

* * *

THE U.S. Postal Service is strong on marketing these days, what with new logos and all. But the new emphasis didn't reach its stamp-design department in time.

The attractive stamp sold to supplement the old 29-cent stamp, now that the domestic rate is 32 cents, is labeled across its bottom: "The 'G' Rate make-up stamp."

That doesn't exactly whet your appetite for more.

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