The CPSC stay – Where are we now?

February 10, 2009

from our friends at the Handmade Toy Alliance:

Myth vs. Fact

We’ve seen a lot of misinformation about the CPSIA and its impact on small businesses. So, we’ve put together a few clarifications to set the record straight.

Myth: The Handmade Toy Alliance is Astroturf. Fact: Well, no. The HTA was formed in November 2008 by several small businesses who were trying to find ways to comply with the CPSIA. We’ve taken no money from anyone and have built our alliance through a dynamic discussion group. We remain an ad-hoc group with no formal leadership although we may seek more formal status in the future. So who’s in charge here? Our members are. All of us make or sell children’s products because we share a passion for better quality toys and clothes. We were all shocked by the product safety problems from large manufacturers that came to light in the past year and many of us have argued for improved safety standards. We just never thought those improved standards might lead to the death of our businesses.

Myth: The CPSC’s One-Year Stay of Enforcement Makes it All Better. Fact: The stay will give the CPSC time to fully clarify the law and to finalize many proposed regulations such as exemptions for natural materials and allowing component-based testing. Mandatory testing for painted products, small parts, cribs, pacifiers, and certain other products has not been stayed, however. Nor had the standards themselves. Basically, manufacturers and retailers must now fully comply with the new standards but will have no ability to affirm compliance. As of February 10, we are now in a Twilight Zone of partial enforcement and the CPSC continues to issue new guidance almost daily. Since retailers are still required to meet the standards, they will continue to request certification. Most suppliers will still need to do testing in order to back-up this certification.

Myth: Violations of the CPSIA this year will not result in penalties. Fact: While the CPSC has issued a statement that it will not  impose penalties on anyone selling certain products (unfinished wood, books printed after 1985, textiles, etc), it has given little assurance for those selling products containing leather, vinyl, pvc, painted products, etc. Additionally, State Attorneys General have the right to enforce the law within their state, irrespective of any declaration or stay by the CPSC.

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 under 12, 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: We are Part of an “Aggressive Misinformation Campaign”. Fact: That’s a quote from CPSC Commissioner Thomas Moore. Several Congressmen have also sited misinformation as the key problem at hand and a CPSC spokeswoman said the problem was mostly caused by “Mommy Bloggers spreading misinformation”. Let’s be clear: the only information we’ve been spreading is the impact of this law on our businesses. Our statements about the costs of compliance are based on actual quotes from accredited labs and are not an exaggeration. The only misinformation we’ve seen so far is that Congress and the CPSC have been misinformed about the impact of the CPSIA on small businesses. As for the word “aggressive”–well, we think a better word would be “progressive”. We are fighting to save small family busineses and preserve local economies–not a very pernicious idea.

Myth: The HTA is Battling Consumer Groups who Helped Create the CPSIA. Fact: Here we have one of the central paradoxes of the CPSIA universe. Members and leaders of groups like US-PIRG, the National Resources Defense Fund, The Consumer Federation, and Consumer’s Union often admit that they did not intend to destroy our little businesses. Many have stated that when they buy products for their children, they buy from folks like us. Some have even argued incorrectly that we have nothing to fear and that the CPSIA contains exemptions for handmade products. We agree with these groups that lead and phthalates should be banned, but would like it done in a way that doesn’t destroy small manufacturers.

Myth: Further clarification is all that is needed. Fact: A poorly written, needlessly broad, complex, and hard-to-understand law cannot be turned into a well written, targeted, effective, and easy-to-understand law through the regulatory process. Core problems with the economics of third-party testing, administrative burdens of managing lot numbers and certificates, economics of permanent labeling on small production runs–to name just a few issues–are not solved merely by having them explained clearly.

Myth: The CPSIA makes children’s products “safer.” Fact: While the CPSIA does increase the standards on some items and introduce 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: Products Tested to European Union Standards will Satisfy New US Standards: Fact: Here we have another huge problem with the CPSIA. The EU and the US now have two very different sets of standards. The EU regulates soluble lead, which is lead that is bioavailable to a child. This same approach is used in the US for dishes and tableware. The US under the CPSIA regulates total lead in children’s products, which cannot exceed 600ppm (and later 300ppm), whether or not it is possible for a child to actually injest that lead through normal use and abuse. Materials like brass and leaded crystals may pass EU standards but will fail US standards. Because of these separate standards, companies that distribute both in the US and in Europe must pay for two separate sets of tests. Many European manufacturers, including Selecta Spielzeug and Hess, have already withdrawn from the US market for this reason.


One Response to “The CPSC stay – Where are we now?”

  1. Chris Milkn Says:

    I enjoyed your blog, come check out mine sometime.

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