Make That Unleaded

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on February 24, 2009

(by Daniel James Devine, WorldMag.com) – Lancaster, Calif., resident Rebekah Wilson operates a small business with a big impact: It’s helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young girls learn to sew by hand. Wilson started Hope Chest Legacy in 2000 and wrote a series of illustrated storybooks geared to ages 3-10. Each story incorporates a simple sewing lesson, and Wilson has heard reports of both moms and 3-year-olds learning to sew for the first time while reading her books. Annually, Hope Chest Legacy sells about 8,000 books and nearly 10,000 sewing kits.

But Wilson plans to shut down her company’s physical sales on Jan. 31. The reason? It’s not because the homeschooling mother of eight can’t find time to manage a business, but because of a sweeping consumer safety law Congress passed last year. The law requires lead testing for almost every substance in products marketed to children 12 and under-and that includes the paper and ink in Wilson’s books and the fabric, needles, and buttons in her sewing kits. For every new batch of books or sewing kits she stores in her garage, Wilson would have to pay $1,500 to $4,000 for lead testing. She can’t afford it.

“It’s insane,” she said. “It puts the small business owner in a difficult position because a lot of us [operate] month to month.”

Wilson’s business isn’t the only one hammered by the new regulations. Across the country, booksellers, toymakers, clothing shops, and others-many of whom didn’t realize until November of last year that the law would apply to them-are scrambling to test their products for lead, liquidate stock (Wilson is offering her wholesalers 70 percent off), or return untested merchandise to manufacturers. When the law takes effect Feb. 10, any children’s product in the United States with a lead content of more than 600 parts per million will be considered a “banned hazardous substance” and cannot be sold. Items already on store shelves are included in the ban. Whether a toy, a shirt, a book, a compact disc, playground equipment, or a ballpoint pen with a leaded brass tip, each product marketed for children must be stringently tested and certified for lead content-regardless of whether the product has been associated with lead poisoning. Businesses that sell uncertified items may be liable for fines ranging from $100,000 to $15 million.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was ushered through Congress (opposed by only three senators and one representative) at the behest of consumer groups after lead-tainted toys from China made 2007 headlines. Lead exposure in children can cause developmental delays and lessen brain development, and lead is toxic to kidneys and to blood formation, according to Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician and professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Besides mandating a comprehensive system for monitoring lead content in every children’s product, the legislation bans certain phthalates (chemicals added to plastics for flexibility) and increases funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Because the act was worded broadly, both the CPSC and businesses are struggling to interpret its full intent before the February deadline. And rather than placing the burden of compliance firmly with manufacturers, it is also a liability for retailers and others with little control over the lead content in products.

As of this writing, the Association of American Publishers had so far unsuccessfully petitioned the CPSC to exclude children’s books from lead regulation. It claims the law will pull existing books off shelves and result in a backlog while publishers await test results. Children’s clothes makers received an exemption for natural materials, such as cotton and wool, but must still test dyes, zippers, and buttons. Two hundred toymakers have joined the Handmade Toy Alliance (www.handmadetoyalliance.org), which argues the new law will effectively suppress domestically made toys while promoting those made where the problems began: China.

The CPSC has exempted thrift stores from the testing requirements but will still hold them responsible for accidentally selling items that exceed the lead limit. “So the liability is still there,” Major George Hood, a spokesman for The Salvation Army, said. “If we have to get out of the business of selling used clothing, it’s going to cripple our ability to provide our services for drug and alcohol clients that reside in our facilities.”

Hood speculated the Salvation Army could lose $60 million in sales-besides having to pay to dump donated clothes and toys.

“In this economy-a very difficult economy – there is a risk that low-income shoppers aren’t going to have any alternatives to full retail price, and we hope we can avoid that.”

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008

  • Bans sale of any children’s product containing 600 lead parts per million (ppm) starting Feb. 10. Limit drops to 300 ppm Aug. 14.
  • Mandates third party lead and phthalate testing, certification, and tracking labels for children’s products.
  • Bans certain phthalates in toys and toddler care items.
  • Mandates choking warning labels in toy catalogs and websites.
  • Tightens safety standards on four-wheeled ATVs. Bans new three-wheelers.

Copyright ©2009 WORLD Magazine, February 14, 2009.  Reprinted here February 24th with permission from World Magazine. Visit the website at www.WorldMag.com.

Questions

1. What type of testing does the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passed in December require?

2. Who is affected by this new law? – how are they affected?

3. What types of fines do businesses face if they do not comply with the law?

4. What challenges does the broad wording of the bill pose for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and retailers?

5. What argument does the Handmade Toy Alliance make for opposing the bill?

6. How will the bill affect The Salvation Army (and other thrift stores)?

7. Read more about the bill under “Background” and “Resources” below. Do you think Congress went too far with the regulations in this bill? Explain your answer.


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Background

(from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CPSIA):
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) is law signed on Aug. 14, 2008 by President Bush. The legislative bill was known as HR 4040, sponsored by Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush.

The law includes the following:
-increases the budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
-imposes new testing and documentation requirements
-sets new acceptable levels of several substances

Specifically, the CPSIA does the following:

  • Imposes new requirements on manufacturers of apparel, shoes, personal care products, accessories and jewelry, home furnishings, bedding, toys, electronics and video games, books, school supplies, educational materials and science kits.
  • Increases fines and specifies jail time for some violations.
  • Increases the CPSC budget authorization from $80 million in 2008 to $136 million in 2014. It also increases staffing to at least 500 personnel by 2013.
  • Is targeted mostly toward “children’s products”, which are defined as any consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger.
  • Imposes new rules governing All terrain vehicle (ATVs).
  • Affects any product that is subject to anything the CPSC regulates by requiring certificates of conformance which state that the product was tested to conform to the regulations its subject to.
  • Reduces the limit of lead allowed in surface coatings or paint to 90 ppm (from the current limit of 600 ppm) effective on 14 August 2009.
  • Reduces the amount of total lead content in children’s products to:
    -600 ppm by 10 February 2009
    -300 ppm by 14 August 2009
    -100 ppm by 14 August 2011
    these limits would be retroactively applied to products on retailer’s shelves on the dates indicated

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children. The CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products – such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals – contributed significantly to the 30 percent decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years. (from CPSC.gov)

On Friday, Jan. 30, the CPSC announced that it will be staying enforcement of the CPSIA for one year.

According to the Handmade Toy Alliance, which opposes the new legislation, the following are myths and facts about the CPSIA:

  • Myth: The CPSIA makes children’s products “safer.”
    Fact: While the CPSIA does increase the standards on some items and introduced new standards on other products, it is unclear that the consumer will be safer than they were a year ago.  To use a blanket approach to practically all children’s products without assessing the associated risks for those individual products is highly ineffective.  We know there are high risks associated with lead in paint and jewelry, and with small parts for children under 3.  Appropriately strict standards and testing requirements should be in place, but to have the same testing requirements for lead in a cotton t-shirt, which scientifically poses no risk of lead contamination is not a rational approach that improves product safety.  In fact, because the CPSC will be forced to enforce standards across many industries where safety has not been a concern, they will have fewer resources to devote to high-risk products.
  • Myth: This Law is About Toys.
    Fact: This is the one single aspect of the CPSIA that the media continues to misrepresent.  The law applies to every product intended for a child age 12 and under, from clothing to bicycles.  Toys, clothes, furniture, books, jewelry, blankets, games, CDs/DVDs, strollers, and footwear, may all be considered children’s products. Even thrift shops are required to comply with the law, although they have no means of doing so without purchasing a $40,000 x-ray testing gun.
  • Myth: Donations & Thrift Shops have been spared from CPSIA.
    Fact: The CPSC has issued clarification on 2/9/09 that in order to DONATE an item that has paint or similar coating it must be third party tested.  Items for children under 3 will require small parts testing.  Donations of products with soft vinyl or plastic, or buttons and zippers should be avoided. Similarly, resale shops are required to screen incoming products.  We have already seen a dramatic disappearance of children’s products from thrift stores all across the country.

Resources

Read answers to FAQs about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act at the CPSC website at cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/faq/faqs.html.

Read about the reasons why manufacturers oppose the CPSIA at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CPSIA#Criticism.

For a list of how your representatives voted on this bill, go to govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-4040.

Read a commentary opposing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 at forbes.com/2009/01/16/cpsia-safety-toys-oped-cx_wo_0116olson_print.html.