Thursday, April 8, 2010

Update on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act; Impact of the Law on Small Crafters

By Colleen Baker of Tactile Baby

It has been over a year since Congress first passed (with only one dissenting vote), the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

The new law was a reaction to the multitude of lead laden toys that made their way into the USA (from manufacturers in south east Asia), during the holiday season of 2007.

Strict new limits on lead (found in paint), and phthalates (an additive used in plastics) were placed on all items intended for use by children under the age of 12.

Manufacturers from Mattel, to the Maine craftsman were put on alert; all manufacturer’s would be required to test for and confirm compliance these – at accredited labs (most found in Asia), for each product run, for each component, for each paint color.

The costs, never mind the logistics soon lead to a panic in the crafter community. Those who contacted the accredited labs were either blown off, (too small to even be considered), or scared off (quotes ran into the thousands for testing of one item).

Congress clearly had not considered the ramifications for small and medium-based businesses/manufactures.

Over the next several months high profile news stories profiled thrift stores that had stopped selling children’s items, libraries putting their children’s sections behind yellow “caution” tape and craftspeople selling baby blankets left with thousands of dollars of supplies & products that now could not be sold.

Clearly this well intended law needed a second look.

In January 2009, just weeks before the law was scheduled to take effect Congress voted to stay the testing requirements for one full year after coming to the realization that the infrastructure just wasn’t in place to mandate such testing.

Manufacturer’s were still to be held liable should their products be shown to exceed the limits of the two banned chemicals, but they were not required to prove that their products had been tested.

The crafter community sighed a weary sigh of relief. Many had already had their items tested (at considerable cost, by non-accredited facilities) and found the supplies they used to be well under the limits set out in the new law. Most supplies are made here in the USA, where lead has been banned in paint for over 30 years, and most craft paints, sealers and adhesives adhere to their own international toxicity standards (ASTM-D 4236).

Fast forward to January 15th 2010, with just two weeks remaining until the stay expired, Congress conceded that many outstanding issues had still not been ironed out, and further pushed the stay on third party testing requirements for products subject to lead content limits to February 10, 2011.

Both Congress, the ones who wrote the law (and the only ones who can amend the law) and the CPSC, the agency who will enforce the law, recognize the problems that still exist for thousands of small business owners who are at very low risk of actually putting any product containing either toxic substance into the marketplace.

In a letter sent to congress by CPSC Commissioner Nancy Nord asks Congress to address the major obstacle, testing requirements, for small businesses:

“… The requirement that all children’s products be third party tested has raised the cost and added to the complexity for many small producers of children’s products. The application of this requirement to handcrafted products made by individual artisans has raised serious concerns about their continued viability. Small producers face higher testing costs, are receiving conflicting information from testing labs about what must be tested, and are facing barriers from retailers who are requiring redundant testing or additional testing to be done by laboratories they specify, often at prohibitive cost. Given all this, Congress should consider whether child safety can be served by other testing alternatives that will assure adequate compliance testing without the cost and complexity of third party testing…”

On March 12th Congress responded by releasing a draft version of proposed corrective amendment to the CPSIA. Unfortunately the draft largely ignores many of the biggest issues that small businesses and artisans face.

The one piece of “relief” provided to small businesses in the amendment is an "alternative testing requirement". The requirement "provides for reasonable testing methodologies to assure certification based on compliance with the relevant consumer product safety standards". The alternative methods must ASSURE COMPLIANCE.”

The obvious fear is that a plethora of lawsuits brought on by those eager to test the new limits of the law will succeed in either scaring out of business, or bankrupting small manufacturers and artisans. The next step in the legislative process will be either a hearing or a "mark-up", neither of which has been scheduled.

For more information on this topic visit:
Handmade Toy Alliance

Conversations with Consumers (CPSC Commissioner Nancy Nord’s blog)

Learning Resources Blog (Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc.)

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for so clearly explaining where this law currently stands. It would be full day of work trying to piece this information together from the Etsy forums, ha! I don't sell children's items at this point, mostly because I'm waiting for the dust to settle, so to speak. Hopefully this comes to an amicable conclusion.

    By the way, Colleen, your shop looks amazing!!! Thanks again for taking the time to explain this in plain English.


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