Friday, January 09, 2009

New Law Will Affect Parents

I already had a very cynical view of government, and our adoption process has only reinforced that cynicism. I'm sure many of you can relate. If not, then it's probably safe to assume that you've never asked a bitter INS employee, who lost the ability to smile years ago, to explain why the fingerprints you've had since before you were born "expire" every 15 months.

Like anyone else with a healthy distrust of people who have the power to tell you what to do and the guns to make sure you do it, I don't exactly get warm, fuzzy feelings when the government imposes a new law in an effort to make this world "safer" for me and my children. There are always unintended consequences.

Such is the case with a new law set to go into effect next month. Under the guise of protecting children, this law will require the testing of all kids' clothing, toys, jewelry, etc. for lead and other toxic substances.

Sounds reasonable, right? Well, that all depends.

Blogger "Mom101" describes an e-mail she received:
    It was from a mom in Ohio who, for the first time, was able to make enough money selling handmade barrettes at her Etsy shop this year that she could afford to stay home with her small son. But thanks to the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act which passed this year and introduces such prohibitive testing and labeling regulations for kids products, she's likely to be out of business in two months.

    In fact the act threatens to put so many crafters, toy artisans, retailers and small business owners out of work that the day it goes into effect, February 10, is being referred to as National Bankruptcy Day.

    Like the economy isn't awesome enough already.

    Think: The stay-at-home mom selling beautiful handmade rag dolls, the artist in Wisconsin who's been hand-whittling natural wood trains for thirty years, the ebay-ing grandma who knits baby booties and sells them for extra income, the adorable kids superhero cape maker at your local craft bazaar.

    All gone. Only to be replaced by plastic garbage from companies who can afford to comply with the new law.
Jen over at Mama's Magic calls the law a "death knell to the handcraft movement for children's items." She writes:
    While I sympathize with the sentiments behind it -- of course I do! I'm a mom with two small kids! -- the CPSIA is feel-good legislation at its worst. It slaps on a bunch of regulations and requirements in the broadest of manners, without thinking through the details.

    And did I mention it will put me out of business? At least the Baby Friendly Beads part of Mama's Magic Studio. That or I'll be operating illegally.

    Why? Because the CPSIA requires end unit testing on every product intended for use by children under 12. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to do this testing, regardless of how small the business. These tests run into the hundreds of dollars. And every piece of my jewelry is one of a kind, so would require a separate set of tests. It isn't enough to test a single prototype. Since each piece of my jewelry sells for $50 or less, the math just doesn't add up.

    It isn't enough to test the components, nor is it sufficient to rely on your suppliers' certification of the safety of the materials. Apparently, according to the CPSIA, simply knitting yarn into a baby blanket or putting beads on a cord mysteriously changes the composition of said materials and requires a whole 'nother set of tests, because they might have suddenly turned toxic. There are no exemptions for small businesses and "micro" manufacturers like myself and most handcraft artisans.
The law won't be limited to handmade items. Those who sell secondhand children's clothes will also affected. The LA Times reports:
    The law, aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products sold for those age 12 and younger -- including clothing -- be tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable. Those that haven't been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of whether they actually contain lead.

    "They'll all have to go to the landfill," said Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Assn. of Resale and Thrift Shops. ...

    ... Carol Vaporis, owner of Duck Duck Goose Consignment in New Port Richey, Fla., said her store stocks barely used brand-name clothing from places such as Limited Too and Gymboree.

    "We really provide a service to the community to help people get clothes for their children they otherwise couldn't afford," she said.

    Families have been bringing more clothes to consignment stores, where they get a chunk of the proceeds, to earn a little cash this winter, she said. She plans to contact her congressional representatives and senators to ask them to amend the law but says there's not enough awareness about the repercussions of the law to force anything to change.
Some of you may not think there is a need for concern, but consider the impact on the cost of clothes, both new and used. Think of all the blogs and web sites you've run across that feature hand-crafted toys, clothes, and jewelry for sale by parents who are seeking to put a slight dent in their adoption expenses.

I do know this will affect us. Dawn has already spent many hours making kids' knitted hats, bibs, blankets, and purses, and was getting ready to open her own Etsy online shop.

** UPDATE **
The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a clarification yesterday regarding this new law. It states:
    The new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that children's products made after February 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban. Sellers of used children's products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.

    The new safety law does not require resellers to test children's products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children's products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
This means that the government probably won't be cracking down on Etsy and Ebay sellers for the time being. But there's more:
    While CPSC expects every company to comply fully with the new laws resellers should pay special attention to certain product categories. Among these are recalled children's products, particularly cribs and play yards; children's products that may contain lead, such as children's jewelry and painted wooden or metal toys; flimsily made toys that are easily breakable into small parts; toys that lack the required age warnings; and dolls and stuffed toys that have buttons, eyes, noses or other small parts that are not securely fastened and could present a choking hazard for young children.
The problem with clarifications like this is that they aren't the law. The clarifications can change at any time depending on who's in charge. So, yes, there is still reason for concern.


Lisa said...

I couldn't agree more. And, the plastic garbage from companies that will be the only things available left to buy will have increased costs as well, because of less competition and because of the cost of the testing passed along to us. Grrrr...

Vivian M said...

What a shame. Thank goodness I hand down all of Kerri's things. Sometimes Big Brother is too busy watching the wrong people!

CG said...

I've been so burned up over this issue for the past two weeks that I couldn't even comment til today. It is just plain ridiculous. You're right that the clarifications aren't good enough. There is even a clear definition of "children's products" in the new law. "Manufactured for children under the age of 12..." Some 12-year-old's wear adult-sized shoes. What about encyclopedias, Bibles, hair ornaments and other "ageless" materials? Once this goes in to effect numerous articles and addendums are going to be necessary because it's written so poorly. At that point it will become even more comical, though it will be far from a laughing matter.

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