Safety or Insanity: What the Press Didn’t Tell You

August 6th, 2009 by Ann

Remember the lead-in-toy-paint scare during the Holiday season of 2007? While we all remember the recalls, the most significant offshoot of the situation is a law known as the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Information Act) which Congress passed the following year - an election year. A well-intentioned but deeply flawed law, it has resulted in the demise of many small businesses and cottage industries and economic hardship for all but the most enormous of companies.

As written, this law made felons out of handcrafters of one-of-a-kind children’s items, including organic and natural wooden toys and baby afghans sold at craft fairs (unless the finished item had been tested — often redundantly — by one of a handful of accredited labs in the US at a cost of several thousand dollars or sent to overseas labs, both of which typically result in the destruction of the item itself). Incredibly, the law also has the potential to make criminals of anyone having garage sales and reselling anything (clothing, bedding, toys, books printed pre-1985, etc.) for children 12 years old and younger if any item is found to be out of compliance with this law. For a short while, libraries and schools were anticipating having to dispose of, in hazardous waste fashion, all of their books for children 12 and younger. There are still storerooms of boxes filled with books printed before 1985, which are currently banned as children’s products.  Schools and libraries are no longer planning to dispose of post-1985 printed books, but science programs are still being held hostage by the rigid regulations, resulting in at least one school using posters to teach geology rather than using real rocks, and leaving others without access to items like microscope bulbs due to the necessary lead solder used to make them. The absurd fact is that CPSIA law covers virtually anything — not just toys — for children 12 and under — even shoes. Using the logic that made CPSIA a law, we should never let our kids go barefoot outside because the lead content naturally found in dirt could easily exceed the legal allowable lead content for anything intended for kids 12 and under.

Keep in mind that there were already laws in place concerning lead in paint in toys when the 2007 situation occurred. What we were seeing and hearing about at that time were toys that were not compliant with existing laws and should have never ended up in the U.S.  What would have made sense to ensure child safety with regards to lead paint would have been to enforce these existing laws. Instead, in a knee-jerk and politically-driven reaction to public concern, our legislators passed a law that has been, and will continue to be, tragically, the undoing of many makers of the very best and safest in children’s products. What started out as a law with bipartisan support has now become good ol’ politics. Congress has continued to push back scheduled meetings about the CPSIA, leaving everyone involved scratching their heads and guessing how to best move forward to comply. (There are more interpretations of this law than you can shake a stick at.)   On top of all this, there have been 11 proposed amendments that are going nowhere.

This is a law that is so monumentally extreme and cumbersome and, in our opinion, misdirected, that it will benefit few but huge retailers and toy manufacturers, and most importantly, not parents and children. Ironically, many of the toys we want for our children - those that are lovingly hand-crafted, inspire creativity, are made with the purest of materials, and won’t end up as landfill after several months of use - are now unavailable to us because of CPSIA. Ironically, what will make a toy CPSIA-compliant are expensive material and component testing that is cost-effective only in vast quantities — which brings us back to toys “made in China” in most instances. A bizarre turn of events, eh? And while European toy safety standards have typically been recognized around the world as the most stringent, many of these toy manufacturers have discontinued doing business in the U.S. because this law is so clumsy and unnecessary, safety-wise. It is a sad day when Grandpa in Minnesota, who crafts wooden toy trains in his garage, has been put out of business because he can’t afford several thousands of dollars of component testing, while factories in China the size of football fields - many with questionable regard for workers’ health and the environment — spew out toys made of plastic because they can afford the testing.

While this law has squandered literally millions of people-hours of those interpreting it, researching it, communicating about it, and attempting to be compliant with it, it has little to do with safety. Ineptly reported by the media, and passed in knee-jerk fashion by Congress, CPSIA is changing the landscape of items we can offer our children. Our legislators have created this mess and parents should be aware that their choices for items they purchase for their 12-and-under kids are being drastically reduced.

For more information about CPSIA, please visit the following sites:

http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsia.html

http://learningresourcesinc.blogspot.com/

http://www.whatisthecpsia.com/

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