the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

From the “this possibly can’t be true files”, it appears that in about a month anyone buying, selling or manufacturing products designed for small children is going to find themselves in a morass of new legal requirements that the spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission called a “sticky and tricky” new law.

One could suppose that the law has good intentions – preventing children from being exposed to dangerous toys, clothing and just about anything else that contains excessive amounts of lead and a number of other toxins. With the seemingly endless recalls of food and other products with excessive amounts of lead and melamine, it did seem like there needed to be action taken.

So, like they always do, our government in their typical fashion toward gobbleydygook-filled regulations that even lawyers need lawyers to interpret, opted to create a new and industry-unfriendly law that goes to the extreme rather than simply enforce the laws we already have.

In case you do not know what I am talking about, beginning on February 10th, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) will change how virtually every product designed for kids will be bought and sold.

It doesn’t matter if the item is brand new, made by hand or used. It doesn’t matter if it is not an item children regularly tend to put in their mouths. It doesn’t matter if you are an industry giant like Mattel or Hasbro or a stay at home mom selling individual items made at home.

Items not tested for lead and a limited number of other nasty things and certified as compliant will put the seller at the risk of criminal prosecution.

What this means is that anyone who cannot afford the $300 to $4,000 tests for each individual toy or garment will either have to sell their wares in back alleys like common criminals or simply go out of business. Thrift and consignment stores are facing a similar decision as there are no provisions for used items manufactured before the new law takes effect in February.

Like with most new government regulations, the speculation and misreporting on this issue are growing. Be extremely careful. While many are claiming that there is an exemption for thrift and consignment shops, no such exemption truly exists. Many of the politicians and reporters are not reading things carefully enough. As it stands as of today, thrift and consignment shops are exempt from having to test items before they put them on the shelves but they are still prohibited from selling “tainted” items. Trouble is, other than items that may have been recalled in the past, how are volunteers and employees of these shops to know which items are banned?

There is supposed to be an exception for crafters who make one-of-a-kind items. However, I have not seen a real definition of what is truly one-of-a-kind. Who determines whether that cute teddy bear you crochet is one of a kind because no two could possibly be exactly alike or if multiple items made by hand from the same pattern are exempt?

While this new law will cost the big players in the marketplace, they will more than likely see limited impact to their overall bottom line. Of course, if the secondary markets are virtually put out of business along with the numerous cottage industries making small numbers of items; big industry will be the big winner here. In a desperate attempt to find someone to blame for past failures, it would seem that the small American manufacturers will be run out of business due to the sins of the huge importers.

One site suggested that people looking for solutions to certifying their items might check out a hand-held scanner that is supposed to check for lead using x-ray technology. Somewhere in my reading for this article I saw a warning that x-ray technologies will not meet the detection requirements of CPSIA.

Despite the current go-green frenzy in government, policy makers appear to have not considered the ramifications that suddenly every toy, garment and children’s item will be likely to end up in the local landfill rather than being passed on to friends or donated to the local thrift store.

Rather than duplicate what others are already saying, I thought I would include some links to places where crafters and other interested parties can go to get more information.

Information from the Government

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has provided a FAQ about the CPSIA here: http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/faq/faq.html

This is the link to ask a question about the new law: http://www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/newleg.aspx

Learn More & Help Fight the Madness

A fashion-based site called Fashion-Incubator has become something of a rallying point for clothing designers and other professional crafters who will be impacted by this new law. They are posting new information on their blog, a section of their forum and on Twitter. Many media outlets are also approaching the owners of this website for children’s wear designers and retailers to interview for their news stories. They are maintaining a list of these requests on their forum and encourage those impacted to participate and be heard.

There is a ton of information on this site and there are a number of active conversations regarding how small manufacturers and crafters are working together to both plan for compliance and to fight this attack on American industry.

Their homepage is: http://fashion-incubator.com/
The forum can be found here: http://fashion-incubator.com/phpbb/viewforum.php?f=32
The site owner’s Twitter account has become almost exclusively about this issue: http://twitter.com/kfasanella

The Handmade Toy Alliance is “an alliance of toy stores, toymakers and children’s product manufacturers from across the country who want to preserve unique handmade toys, clothes, and all manner of children’s goods in the USA.” They too are becoming a rallying point for toy makers and others who will be impacted by this new law.

Their homepage is: http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org/

Etsy, that wonderful place to find oodles of wonderful handmade items is also trying to rally crafters to fight this ridiculous and business crushing mandate. They are trying to provide updates as they receive them on the Craftivism section of their blog – http://www.etsy.com/storque/craftivism/

The Smart Mama is also attempting to keep up to date and share her findings on her blog – http://www.thesmartmama.com/bg/

cpsia-central (http://cpsia-central.ning.com/) is another site attempting to organize effected small business owners and other interested parties into uniting against this new law. They are actively communicating with groups who appear to be gaining access to both members of Congress and people inside the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Several months ago, Amazon sent some correspondence to their sellers and one blogger discussed the letter they received – http://issues-in-publishing.blogspot.com/2008/11/cpsia-sneaking-up-on-us.html

This site offers a general synopsis of the CPSIA from an engineering and consulting firm that highlights the various chemicals involved, the deadlines for compliance as well as the resulting penalties for noncompliance. http://www.rsjtechnical.com/WhatisCPSIA.htm

CPSIA, the small business killer?

Overall, it would appear that everything is something of a moving target with CPSIA. Be very careful who you listen to as several of the conversations I saw regarding thrift and consignment shops incorrectly interpreted the information being currently released. Yes, thrift and consignments do not have to test BUT, and it’s a big giant go directly to jail but; they are not exempt from the penalties of selling noncompliant goods.

I would hope common sense would prevail and amend this small-business killer to eliminate the need for retesting when the item is made from 100% previously tested and certified materials. Why should a seamstress who uses certified threads and fabrics have to take her baby jumper to be tested as well?

The cynic in me sees the CPSIA, not as a law to protect children, but one to further harm American small businesses. Unless things change greatly in the coming weeks, it would appear that finding anything used for children will become a thing of the past and any small company making items for children will simply be out of business. Oh, and let’s not forget that our landfills will become colorful mountains of perfectly usable toys and clothing that suddenly are classified as toxic waste.

A few suggestions for further reading...

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