The CPSIA and the Resale/Thrift Industry

I have spent most of the last two days answering emails about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).  The CPSIA has lots of different requirements – a ban for certain phthalates, a reduced limit for lead in paints and coatings, labeling requirements, and a lead content limit for children’s products among some of the provisions.  A lot of people are confused and upset.


And, I’m all for safety in consumer products. So it is difficult to be against a legislative effort that was at least touted as making children’s products safe. And I’m not against the concept – just the poorly crafted provisions.


From the emails I have received, most people are concerned about the new lead content limit for children’s products. Beginning February 10, 2009, all children’s products must meet a lead content limit of 600 parts per million (ppm). For those products manufactured after 2/10/09, manufacturers and importers must issue general conformity certificates (GCCs).  These GCCs must accompany the products and certify that the products meet the 600 ppm lead limit (and any other applicable provisions).  (My plug – keep in mind that XRF analysis can satisfy this requirement for the time being.  I offer it at reasonable rates – $5 per test or $100 per hour. Just email me at jennifer@thesmartmama.com  if you want more info).


But, more worrisome is that the CPSIA has been interpreted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to apply to ALL children’s products in commerce, regardless of manufacturer date. This means that the items can’t be sold if they don’t meet that limit. This is bad enough for retailers. They must now figure out if their inventory satisfies the requirements. How are they going to do this? Some retailers may be able to get information from their suppliers. Others are testing their inventory using XRF or other test methods.


But one industry seems in a very difficult position. How is the resale industry going to comply with this law? The law doesn’t just apply to toys, but also clothing.  The lead content limits apply to all products intended for children under the age of 12 subject to the CPSC’s jurisdiction.  That means clothing. That means crib sheets. That even means decorative accessories intended for children’s rooms.


The eBayers are concerned. The children’s resale industry is concerned.  The thrift stores are concerned. If they can’t sell children’s products without determining whether the products are  compliant, then what are they going to do? Some of them are going to close up shop – a loss of jobs and income. It is also disappointing from the green perspective. Re-using and recycling clothing is a good green thing. One thrift shop insider told me that she already has problems recycling clothing (for the fiber) because of the economic downturn – the city laid off the workers. But if her store can’t sell children’s products without determining lead content compliance, they will send a TON of additional products to the landfill. Filling up our landfills is a definite unintended consequence of the CPSIA.


I’ve been reading various blogs, forums and discussion groups to see how the resale industry is going to handle the law. And I am absolutely FLOORED by how much misinformation is floating around on the subject for the resale industry. Some of it is a result of a very unfortunate story out of Florida – completely wrong in many respects but widely being circulated.


So, let’s review some basics:


(1)  This law is not just about toys.  This law involves all products subject to any consumer product regulation, ban, standard, etc.


(2)  The lead content ban does not just apply to toys.  The lead content ban applies to ALL children’s products.  The term children’s product is defined as any product under the CPSC’s jurisdiction intended for children under the age of 12. As of February 10, 2009, all children’s products must meet the lead content limit of 600 ppm lead. This cannot be averaged across the product – each part (except those that are inaccessible within the CPSC’s definition) must meet the limit. This limit goes down to 300 ppm on August 12, 2009.


(3)  The lead content limit is different from the limit on lead in paints and coatings.  The limit on lead in paints and coatings applies to those products that are painted or coated.  In addition, children’s products must ALSO meet the lead content limit.


(4)  Items manufactured after the lead content limit is effective must be accompanied by a general conformity certificate from the manufacturer – for domestically made products – or the importer – for foreign made products.


(5)  The ban on certain phthalates applies to children’s toys and child care articles – a smaller subset of children’s products. Child care articles are those products intended for children under the age of 3 that facilitate sleeping and eating.


(6)  The lead content ban is retroactive. The CPSC has declared that products that don’t meet the 600 ppm standard are “banned hazardous substances” and cannot be distributed in commerce. So, the lead content standard applies to existing inventory – items on store shelves now. These items do NOT need general conformity certificates like items manufactured/imported. But they do need to be compliant.


(7)  XRF technology can be used to issue the general conformity certificates up until 8/12/09. After that date, products must be tested by a 3rd party accredited laboratory. What satisfies this requirement has not yet been established – the CPSC is not scheduled to issue these regulations until May 16, 2009.


(8)  The phthalate ban is NOT retroactive. It only applies to products manufactured after February 10, 2009. Products can be sold through – so existing inventory does NOT need to meet the standard.


(9)  There is no exemption for resale. The CPSC has interpreted the legislation to mean that children’s products that don’t meet the 600 ppm lead limit effective 2/10/09 are “banned hazardous substances” under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and cannot be distributed in commerce. By any person.


(10)  The CPSC has proposed some exemptions from the lead content limit. These exemptions are based upon a provision for minimal hazards (paraphrasing). The exemption applies to untreated, undyed, uninked, etc. natural fibers, certain gemstones, certain precious metals, and certain other natural items such as untreated leather, fur, and coral. That’s it. As of yet, there isn’t an exemption proposed for the resale industry.


(11)  The textile exemption in the durable nursery goods provision DOES NOT exempt textiles from the lead content limits. They are two separate provisions of the law.


(12)  The exemptions from flammability testing for certain fibers DO NOT exempt those same fibers from the lead content limits if used in children’s products.


The resale industry must figure out how to determine if existing inventory is compliant come 2/10/09. The resale industry doesn’t have the option of contacting suppliers to determine compliance. Testing with XRF may be an option – I and others offer the services or you can rent or lease one.  At least one company is sending XRF analyzers (less powerful than the one I have) from Texas at a cost of $400 per day.


I can tell you I have found lots of items that don’t meet the limits. In general, vinyl or polyvinyl chloride plastic usually has lead to stabilize it, so I find elevated levels of lead in everything from fake leather coats and purses to raingear to diaper changing pads – anything that is vinyl. I also find lead in fake pearls – the inexpensive ones. Also fake shell or pearl buttons on clothing. Pot metal jewelry and charms are usually lead. Some crystals attached to clothing.


I do think we will see some changes and fixes to the CPSIA over the next couple of months. But the CPSC has indicated it is limited with respect to the lead content ban because of the legislative language.


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