The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act imposes stringent new lead-testing rules on all products made for children 12 and under. The regulations affect businesses that sell items and cover libraries, which lend out books to children. The impact of the new law, especially in terms of children’s books, is vague, leaving local booksellers, libraries and even schools trying to interpret its meaning and figure out how to comply, and at what cost.
The lead-testing regulations were signed into law in August 2008 as a response to the massive recalls involving mostly Chinese-made toys containing lead in 2007. The new rules require that all books, toys and handmade crafts be tested for lead, regardless of where they’re manufactured.
“The act covers anything a baby or child touches, lies on, eats from, or plays with,” says Gary Green, owner of The Toy Box toy store.
Book sellers, libraries, and schools are struggling to figure out what this means for them. Although “used” toys and books don’t require testing (though resale shops are subject to penalties if it’s determined that they’ve sold items that don’t meet the standards), any new product, even textbooks, must be tested.
“If we go by the letter of the law as it stands now, all bookstores and libraries would have to take their books for kids 12 and under off the shelves and destroy them to be in compliance,” says Leslie Hawkins, owner of Spellbound Children’s Bookstore. “It could shut businesses down.”
Products for children must be tested for lead using “reasonable internal guidelines” to make sure that lead levels are below 600 parts per million, according to the new law, which also covers the use of phthalates, a chemical used to soften plastic. Starting in August, all children’s products must have been tested by a third-party laboratory to ensure lead levels are below 300 ppm (acceptable levels drop to 100 parts per million in 2011). Manufacturers will be issued a compliance certificate once all of their relevant products have been tested.
Meanwhile, books, toys and crafts already at retailers or available via Web sites like Etsy must fall within acceptable safety standards, though they do not need to be accompanied by a certificate. While the intent of the act seems to be to put the burden on manufacturers, retailers and other sellers will need to have products on their shelves tested by Feb. 10, or remove them if they’re unclear as to whether or not the product could contain lead.
“Surely, the government didn’t mean for us to all to throw out our stock,” Hawkins says. “Most people I’ve talked to are taking a wait-and-see attitude. We’re all holding our breath."
Retailers, libraries and crafters are hoping that the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is in charge of enforcing the rules, will offer exemptions, as it did to resale and consignment stores on Jan. 8. American Library Association representatives met with the Consumer Product Safety Commission last week in Washington, D.C., to try to discern what the new law means for libraries.
According to the organization's Web site, ALA President Jim Rettig said: “It is apparent that the CPSC does not fully understand the ramifications this law will have for libraries — and for children — if libraries are not granted an exemption. At this point, we are advising libraries not to take drastic action, such as removing or destroying books, as we continue to hope this matter will be rectified and that the attention will be paid to the products that pose a true threat to children. However, we find it disappointing and shameful that a government agency would continue to leave this matter unsettled when clearly the outcome would virtually shut down our nation’s school and public libraries.”
The new law could be dire for small crafters as well. Under the regulations, they're considered manufacturers, and would have to have every item they make tested. That cost could put most of them out of business.
“Because my operation is so small-scale, and since I focus primarily on kids' items, I will just have to close shop,” says Asheville resident Liz Stiglets, who sells children’s costumes and toys from an on-line Etsy shop called Cozyblue.
“I have the option of changing my focus to more home décor, but what I love to create are kids' items. There is simply no way I can have my items tested. The price of testing is too high (more than the item is worth) and since the testing process destroys the item itself, it's not even possible really.”
Testing can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, which ultimately will pass costs on to the consumer.
“The cost of testing will cause me to dramatically reduce my selection as well as raise my prices,” says Arden resident Jessica Bellemare, owner of The Modern Baby Company.
Local crafters agree that children’s safety is paramount, but add that the comprehensiveness of the testing under the new law is overwhelming.
“We are not against stricter legislation and testing, it just needs to be practical and feasible for small businesses,” Bellemare says.
Stiglets notes: “It's pretty depressing and discouraging. Handmade items have been a part of American culture forever. There are so many of us trying to preserve it, pass it along to our children — but this new regulation, though it is well-meaning, is going to wipe out small-scale designers and crafters.”
Green says that while a significant amount of merchandise will have to be removed from the Toy Box’s shelves: “Most of the manufacturers that we do business with have been testing for years.”
Green’s primary concern in the long-term viability of the small American toy manufacturers, such as Maple Landmark, which makes wooden train cars sold at The Toy Box.
“Lots of small companies that make small quantities of high-quality toys won’t be able to survive,” he says. “We want to make sure all our toys are as safe as possible, as we always have. But the companies that are going to survive this are the big manufacturers who can afford to spend $1,000 on testing and whose products are mostly made overseas. So much for our support for American manufacturers.”
Local retailers and crafters are closely monitoring the situation, signing petitions and communicating with legislators and the commission.
“There’s an effort to repeal the law and come up with a new law that makes more sense,” Green says. “In the long run, I hope it will happen, but in the short run, it doesn’t look like it will.”
Etsy's open letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding the new rules.
The CPSIA Web site: http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsia.html
The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association’s information about CPSIA: http://www.astratoy.org.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission’s site: www.cpsc.gov.
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