A Sad Result of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

You may have heard by now about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that went into effect February 10th. This law requires that all products — including clothes, toys, and even books — intended for sale to children 12 and under be tested for lead and phthalates. If the item isn’t tested and passed, it cannot be sold. This has no impact on new, mass produced products; anything new will be manufactured to comply with the guidelines. However, used and handmade items are presenting a big problem.

Thrift stores, most of which cannot afford to have their products tested, must throw away anything that isn’t tested. This means that tons of used toys and clothes are headed for the landfill. Some stores might go out of business because the kids’ market is a huge part of their revenue. And in a tight economy, this is very bad news for people who rely on the secondary market to clothe their kids and provide them with toys. Technically, the law also means that you can’t sell any untested items on eBay or at your spring yard sale. So if you need cash, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Until enough “new” products churn through the system and make their way to the secondary market, there is going to be a shortage of affordable kid’s clothes and toys in the used market.

The government has admitted that they had a “duh” moment in crafting this law and that they never considered the effects on the secondary market. But they also haven’t done anything yet to correct the law or make exceptions. So for now, untested items for kids are off limits. You could argue all day about whether this a good law or not. Personally, I think the idea of protecting new items is fine, but to require that everything old be tested is ridiculous. Leave it up to the parents to determine how comfortable they are with the risk and let them purchase accordingly. Or, have waivers at the thrift stores that parents can sign acknowledging that they understand the risk but are choosing to buy anyway. In this way the used market could carry on. Especially in down times like we have now, these secondary markets are important both to parents who need cheaper alternatives and to the local economy that needs the jobs the thrift stores provide. I think the law is a case of government intervention gone too far, but you may disagree.

I didn’t really process the damage this law was doing until I had a talk with a friend who is a toy maker. He is an older gentleman who makes wooden toys. He sells some for a little extra income, but mostly he makes them for kids who are severely ill and in the hospital, kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them toys, or kids who are victims of crime or fire. With the passage of this law, he is effectively out of business. He cannot afford to have his toys tested. He knows he uses lead free paints and materials because he is very conscious of the issues and refuses materials that he cannot be certain of. However, it is expensive to prove that in order to satisfy the new law. This means that he can no longer sell or give his toys away. It makes me sad to think that there are a lot of deserving kids who will go without toys in the future because this man cannot give away his creations.

My friend also reminded me that the program in which firefighters and cops give out teddy bears to kids who have been the victims of crimes, accidents, or fire is in danger, as well. Since many of these bears are donated used but in good condition, they can no longer accept them. The departments cannot afford to have them all tested; neither can they afford to buy all new stuffed animals. This means that some kids will receive no comfort when they are in need of it most. Other social programs are likely in danger, as well. Libraries may have to toss out tons of children’s books and refuse donations of used ones. Toy drives and winter clothing drives that rely on donations of gently used items may not be able to collect this year. It’s a mess.

It’s bad enough that in a down economy parents are being left without cheap options to clothe their kids. It’s bad enough that some thrift stores are in danger of closing and shedding the associated jobs. And it’s bad enough that the landfills are filling up with perfectly useable and wanted items. But when deserving and needy kids are being denied good toys and the comfort of a teddy bear, I say things have gone too far.

So what can you do to help? If you have the means, purchase new children’s clothes and toys and donate them to your local thrift store. Leave the tags on and provide a dated receipt so that the store can tell they comply with the new law. Purchase new stuffed animals and give them to your local fire or police department. Again, leave the tags on and provide a receipt if you can. Purchase new toys and donate them to your local hospital so they can give them to ill children. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Just a few small toys or stuffed animals will go a long way. Help repopulate the secondary market with items that comply with the new law. If you can’t give items, donate money so that the organization can buy what they need. Your donations will help keep these businesses and programs operating and if you donate to a tax exempt organization, you can take a tax deduction next year.

Unfortunately, there is nothing that will help my friend the toy maker and others like him. Unless he’s willing to pay for testing (or a fairy godmother pays for him) or the law is rewritten, there is nothing he can do to stay in business. And it’s a shame because his creations were some of the most wonderful I’ve seen. Not only does the law cut into his income in this down time, it cuts into the enjoyment of kids who are already suffering. And that’s just sad.

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8 Responses to A Sad Result of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

  1. Claire says:

    This isn’t strictly true. The CPSC issueda a clarification stating that this law was never intended to apply to second-hand sellers. Read it here: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09086.html

    They don’t have to test their items, but aren’t allowed to sell things with a high lead content, so they need to be pretty sure that what they’re selling can’t/doesn’t have lead.

    It does still apply to the older gentleman you referred to though, which is too bad.

  2. Annie Jones says:

    I don’t know about your friends toys, but I think they have already exempted used clothing from this law.

  3. tammy says:

    It’s not been fixed at all. Congress hasn’t changed anything in their original writing of this law, it’s still in effect. Now the CPSC can say that 2nd hand sellers are exempt. But it’s not written into the law that they are. Our AG office says that they will follow what congress has issued. There are no exemptions until Congress re-writes it.

    It has also put us out of business and it has taken the reason to live from several grandmothers who knit and crochet for babies in NICU who can’t afford to test their products.

  4. PandaBean says:

    We had a new second-hand store go out of business here. They had just opened and sold specifically baby clothes and they were doing a great amount of business (it helped they were next to the crisis pregnancy center) and now they’re gone.

    God Bless!

  5. Anne Orlando says:

    “This has no impact on new, mass produced products; anything new will be manufactured to comply with the guidelines.”

    Excuse me? I own a screen printing company and this law is effecting everyone. You think it’s cheap and easy to switch everything you use to make things in order to comply with this insane law?

    By this time next year, we must have gotten rid of all of our inks and inventory in order to be in compliance. In this current economic crisis, many business who are having a hard enough time has it is, will be going out of business and many more jobs are going to be lost.

  6. Kathleen Morse says:

    Who’s going to lose financially when the Lead paint Mattel toys from China turning up in garage sales? You remember, China chastised the United States for much ado about nothing. Oh, now I remember, the CEO from Mattel made a public apology to the Chinese govt.for the fact that Americans had indeed overreacted and he was apologizing. Why couldn’t he say, We do not stand for products that we know will harm or kill our citizens and especially not children. Then they made laws to force the people they sold it to who were not protected by their govn’mnt because we need dumps and nobody else will buy, No new laws to protect them but many needed to protect us from liability it onSee we approved lead based paint be sold to paint house interiors and toys and tables and chairs and when the paint chipped & kids ate it they got brain damage and died& stuff so because it got real obvious we said When did this country become the cesspool where the crap that corporations CAN’T sell in other countries because they won’t allow it pollutes our world When someone plants GMo corn in Europe the town goes and tears it out of the ground.Banned. Our government says we don’t have the right to know. According to an NBC news report 80,000 items are on our shelves to be sold to us that are BANNED in other countries. If you ask me the apes are running our world.Some greedy souless vicious patriots have been throwing their slop to the citizens (What was the FDA thinking when the atmosphere was conducive to even ASK about synthetic rubber, when did they first pollute our food supply . 10 yrs ago the FDA had 1800+ agents who inspected 6 million carge shipments of food coming into this country. Hard gig then. This year the same number, give or take 1000 either way expect 25 million of these containers and they will inspect those with approx SAME number of agents. They expect to test 1 and a half – to 2 % of that amount.
    ]115 seconds after the ? was asked Not happening. Pink slime? Irradiation of flesh to assure us of no bacteria in flesh? How about take better care of the flesh, don’t let it get infected. Easy Peasy.

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