Friday, January 23, 2009

TheJuneBride News: A Catch-22 with the CPSIA

I'm sure you heard at least something about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). If you haven't, you will soon enough since it takes effect on February 10, 2009.

I don't think anyone wants to make dangerous or toxic products available to children. Enacting safety laws to protect children from poorly manufactured items is critical and certainly tougher restrictions are necessary, but CPSIA, as it stands, is a far-reaching law requiring stringent compliance from businesses, including additional testing on products long considered safe.

In case you are not aware, the new legislation requires third-party testing and certification for each component of each product, in each color and each size, that is manufactured in or imported into the US and is intended for children 12 years old and under (including all toys, clothing, bedding, books, everything!). This will remove hundreds of thousands of small busineses from the children's product marketplace, leaving only stores large enough to foot the bill for the expensive testing requirements and recoup their costs by selling mass-produced products at higher prices.

With the the new CPSIA legislation going into effect, after that date, I will no longer be able to legally sell my baby and child items as the costs for lead and phthalate testing is simply out of my range (even though fabrics are not even suspected of containing either of those). I will not be able to sell in the US or outside the US. In all likelihood, I will also not be able to sell any existing merchandise after that date since it has not been tested and the ban appears to be retroactive to all present stock at that point. I am very grateful I do not sell these things for my livelihood, but I have serious concerns beyond just how this will affect me. Congress has not yet interpreted or clarified the law, so there is a mountain of ambiguity regarding its far-reaching potential ramifications.

In a bizarre reversal of "innocent until proven guilty", every children's product is now considered hazardous until proven otherwise. According to the new law, a product is not just a sum of its parts. Even if each part of an item is known to be lead- and phthlate-free... even if each part is tested and certified as such, as is required... the whole product must be tested as well. Who knew hand-assembly could pose such a potential threat? Additionally, after August 14, 2009, each product sold after that point will need to have a tracking label to assist in the dissemination of recall information, should it become necessary. Not exactly practical requirements for your average sole proprietorship.

Since little is known about the economic impact this will have other than that it is poorly timed in general, the only thing to do is wait and see. Will thrift stores, who serve more now than ever, have to stop selling children's items because they are untested? Will some children's books be slipped inside brown paper bags and handed guiltily under the checkout counter at the bookstore? Will it be illegal to donate untested products instead of burying them, unused, in landfills? If prices are driven up by the cost of testing, what will happen to families living paycheck-to-paycheck who need to buy diapers and clothes for their children? And what about families who's income will be lost or diminished by the newly-decreed law now, when finding a new living-wage job of any kind is already a task averaging 6 months or longer in the US?

If you also have concerns and haven't done so already, feel very free to sign these petitions:
Save Small Businesses from the CPSIA
CPSIA Impacts on Children's Apparel Industry

1 comment:

mchen said...

You've done a great job in summing up the hundreds (thousands?) of things I've seen people write about this issue. I'm relieved to hear that you don't depend on your handmades as your primary income, and feel horrible for those who do.