What will be pulled off the shelves? The impact of the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

by Xin Lu on 9 January 2009 13 comments
Photo: Color Clothes

Recently the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is making headlines because it required that all products (including clothes) made for children 12 and under be tested for lead and a unpronouceable toxic plastic additive called phthalates.  Additionally, retailers must check that their products were not part of a recall. What does this mean for your everyday life?

The law will become effective on February 10th and at first it sent waves of panic through thrift store owners because testing is expensive and each violation of the law could mean fines of $100,000 or jail time.  On one hand, I appreciate that the government is trying to enhance product safety, but I feel that they were putting too much of a burden on too many people with this mandatory testing program.  It does not make financial sense for a small time eBay clothing seller to spend $200 to test a $10 shirt, and  if the products are not officially tested then they are considered hazardous and illegal to sell.  This is precisely the reason why many thrift shop owners felt like they were forced to dump all of their inventory and close up.  Honestly I think that  products in second hand shops probably are less dangerous than new products because in a way the used things have been "tested" so to speak.  Consumer products that have been recalled are less likely to show up in thrift stores simply due to the fact that they have been recalled.  In comparison, new products  such as these Simplicity Cribs are sold by the thousands and millions and only get recalled when someone gets hurt.  Personally I have never heard of a story where a child died due to an used shirt.

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Fortunately, it seems that the Consumer Product Safety Commission listened to the reasoning of the thrift shop owners and voted that second hand sellers will be exempt  from mandatory testing of children's products so it shall be business as usual.  I guess they realized it probably is not a good time to force a large group of small businesses to shut their doors when the economy is already gasping for air.  All second hand sellers will still be required to check the CSPC website for recall announcements on the products they sell, but at least they do not have to throw everything away.

Another side effect of this law is that many small manufacturers and book publishers will be required to test their products for children.  Some of them will inevitably be forced to close their doors or change their products completely because they do not have the resources to test all of their inventory.  This law also applies to anyone  who creates and sells handcrafted toys or clothes for children so some grandmas out there may just be dealing out illegal knitted beanies.  On the flipside I think the government probably would not spend a lot of resources to enforce this law amongst individuals who sell their crafts, but you never know. 

In a perfect world, nothing would be toxic and kids would be invincible, but in reality there is danger for children in almost everything in our homes.  A pen could pierce a jugular vein and a piece of paper could be tainted with the flesh eating virus.  It is really up to parents to be vigilant and watch what their kids are putting into their mouths and hands, but there is no need to be overly zealous.  This new law will probably make products more safe in the long run, but we may lose small businesses along the way since for the most part only the large retailers and manufacturers can afford the testing.  Additionally,  children's products may become more expensive as a result.  

What do you think?  Are we trading freedom for a bit of perceived safety?  Do you think the government will crack down on your neighbor who sells kid's jewelry online? 

 

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Good piece, Xin. You know, it just seems to me like if international companies want their goods sold here, why shouldn't the cost of the testing or quality control go there first? That way stores would have a list of products they would be able to carry with confidence. I realize that's not the way it worked out, but it just seems like it's something the legislation would have taken into account. I wonder if there's any history on that issue, and how it got addressed during the legislative process.

Guest's picture
Donna

I'm very bothered by the effect this will have on small businesses and those at-home crafters who make and sell things (as I was up until last year). Throughout this whole election season, we heard quite a bit about how important small business is to the economy...and how small businesses create jobs. But legislation like this effectively kills those small businesses! I'm glad they came to their senses and exempted thrift stores and the like.

Guest's picture
lucille

The CPSC is working on clarification for people like crafters who make things for sale. Etsy is working with them to get some sort of clear rules to exempt crafters who make small numbers or one of something. There is more info on Etsy's home page.

In reality most crafters source their materials from large national retailers unless they are sourcing something like raw wool and spinning it or buying domestic handspun wool from another small business or crafter. So CPSC should be able to establish something that requires things like yardage material or yarns to be tested before coming into the country. Possibly something like a label showing the item is kid safe or not kid safe.

Guest's picture

I am glad to hear that second hand stores will be exempt. I don't know anyone who makes children's clothing, but this idea is similar to NAIS - the National Animal Identification System. Big ranchers can afford the machinery to tag and identify every animal, but hobby farmers will be put out of business if NAIS is passed. http://nonais.org I see the same thing happening here - only big business will be able to withstand the testing costs, so I hope they do make exceptions for home crafters. Great post, thanks!

Guest's picture
Olivia

Why not start with the wholesalers? Why should retailers get stuck with bad goods in the first place? If it's a matter of compliance make it a standard pracice to test stuff at the docks, charged to the manufacturer and sent back at their expense. That way it's more costly to produce bad stuff than good. It seems it's always easier to nip things in the bud instead of waiting for seeds to be blown around and start to root.

Guest's picture
Amanda

Phthalates are, since you didn't bother to look them up, an additive to plastic, generally PVC, that is used to soften plastics (know as a plasticizer). They are nasty things that cause endocrine disruption, which means they screw with your hormones.

Their use has been severely limited in children's toys in the EU since 1999. Finally, the US is catching up on this. Speaking as some one who has worked in the US toy industry, in some cases the EU overreacts to dangers in toys. This is NOT one of those cases and is an issue that should have been addressed ASAP, once discovered.

Generally, I recommend, when people ask me, that they stay away from all PVC toys, especially for young kids who are apt to put things in their mouths.

Guest's picture
Amanda

Oh, and it pronounced "fie-lates".

Guest's picture
jg

oh, it is actually pronounced "thal-ates." the "ph" is silent.

Guest's picture
Jan

I am a grandmother who loves to make waldorf style dolls. In the last year my husband changed jobs and took a deep pay cut. We needed me to bring in some money. Since February I have sold over 100 dolls ... all made of cotton, stuffed with clean, carded (USA sourced)wool .. from my very rural homestead. It made a difference in our lives. I know the dolls brought joy to other people's lives. And now the CPSIA law. Didn't they realize how many tiny little home businesses are in our country that sustain people's lives? Did some even read the law? I hope they are able to fix this mess.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Jan, your dolls are quite pretty.  I hope the congress straighten this law out quickly because there is only a month left until many small mom and pop shops may be punished or forced to dump their inventory.  I did read somewhere that they're exempting things made out of cotton, but if their are metal or plastic components they still need to test those.

Guest's picture
Guest

It would be nice if the politicians would actually think about the people that elected them, before jumping the gun and passing laws that haven't been thought through. Yes, the phthalates should, and need, to be controlled better than we have bothered to do before. But, there are so many items that don't have phthalates in them. A blanket law like this only causes confusion, not peace of mind. Not to mention that, more than likely, there's very little likelihood that a law like this would even be possible to enforce. Law enforcement officers would have to comb every garage sale, craft fair, children's internet toy sales site, and grandmother's craft bag in the country. I really have to wonder what our government was thinking when they came up with this. Protecting children is of course a good cause, but not when the consequences haven't actually been thought out, and it hurts nearly everyone who sells used toys and clothing, or makes children's crafts. Are they forcing children's book producers to test the trees that their paper pages are made from?
What's next? They decide not to arrest drunk drivers, but take away everyone's car? They decide they're not going to arrest anymore drug dealers, so they they take away everyone's medications? Careful; if they notice someone littering, then instead of fining the litter-bug, they might just decide to take away your garbage pails :-O
Why don't they go after the people responsible for allowing the contaminants and toxins in the toys, and leave everyone else alone?

Tisha Tolar's picture

Of course when i was a child I didn't worry too much about anything outside of snacks, friends, and playtime. But what a shame that parents know have to fear the clothes they put on their child's back on top of the other terrible things ingrained in our society. Kids can no longer go out and play until the streetlights come on. They have to grow up a little faster than I did.

I hope that there can be a way to correct what is wrong without ruining the other things in people's lives, such as hobbies, yard sales for extra cash, and just generositiy that people like to extend to children out of the kindness of their own hearts.

 

 

Guest's picture

Great subject Xin! I agree it's hard to see the logic in these legal requirements being set on the retailers and not the manufacturers. I would think that regulating the products at the source and prohibiting sales or import of unsafe products would make more sense. Then again, I see the point that some retailers can and would get their hands on cheaper goods and maybe knockoffs that find their way into the market and those unscrupulous business owners should be punished.

My first time on these forums and there are some great writers here and some original subjects! I'm always hoping to find some talented writers or even those working to improve and perfect their writing style!