Thursday, January 15, 2009

CPSIA - Will it keep us safer?

So, if you go anywhere near the Etsy forum you have probably heard about the CPSIA. If you don't you should know that CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) is meant to keep products being sold in the USA safer. It was passed into law in direct response to all of the lead tainted toy recalls in 2007.

So, as a parent, my first reaction is, good - Congress is doing something about the problem. However, as I read more and more and think about this, really I don't think we will be any safer. Why, you ask? First of all we already had laws in place that banned lead paint in the US, but there were still millions of toys recalled for lead paint. Companies who broke the law voluntarily recalled the said items, but if they hadn't recalled them, they would have faced fines. So, why didn't the old laws stop this from happening?

The problem with the old law was that the penalties for breaking the law were not harsh. If a company put a toxic toy on the market they basically faced bad press and a slap on the wrist. Probably no consolation to the parents who had very sick children because of lead tainted toys. If the law had real consequences in the first place - you can bet your bottom dollar that the QC (quality control) departments of these huge toy companies could have prevented this mess in the first place.

So, you still may be thinking - Well, good, they fixed the law. Partly, yes and partly no. Instead of fixing the old law and placing harsher penalties on the companies that break the law, the new law will be placing penalties on consumers. The new law requires that all items for children under the age of 12 require 3rd party testing of items and lowers the acceptable amount of lead in any product for children 12 and under. The costs for this testing are approximately $300 - $1200+ per lot made. The testing required is not a simple lead testing kit you can buy at a hardware store, it is a comprehensive test that requires items to be destroyed to test all components of a product except for the components that are inaccessible to children. A new lot is created ever time any material or process is changed in the manufacturing process. Therefore a red bike with a 20in frame would be one lot, a red bike with a 24in frame would be another lot, a blue bike with a 20in frame would be another lot, a blue bike with a 24in frame would be another lot, etc... Also, lots are changed when manufacturing stops, and starts again. Therefore if a company was making red 20in frame bikes and ran out of red paint the lot would end when the paint ran out, and when the paint was refilled a new lot would start.

So, for each lot created you sacrifice one item for testing, and add to your costs the cost of testing the item.

This cost is easily spread out when manufacturers make thousands of items in one run. Say you make 15,000 widgets in one lot - if your cost of testing is $1200 for one widget - your are only adding 8 cents to each widget. For a medium manufacturer who only produces 1000 items per lot, you are adding $1.20 to the cost. For a small manufacturer who only produces 50 items per lot you are adding $24 to the cost, and for a micro manufacturer who only produces 2 items per lot you are adding $600 to the cost.

If you suppose that that this item retails for $50 you can see that large and medium manufacturers could easily pass this cost onto a consumer with very little notice, but the small and micro manufacturers would most likely be pushed out of the market.

But, ensuring that there is no lead in products is a good thing!

I am certainly not saying that we need to allow lead in toys in order to let small and micro manufactures flourish. However, the a small and micro manufacturer would be devastated under the current laws if their toys were to contain lead. A civil lawsuit from a sick family, the mental anguish, and the bad press would be enough to devastate them. However, the large manufacturers have insurance policies and PR departments to protect them. So, when it comes to lead tainted toy recalls the majority of items that have been recalled are from large manufacturers who really don't feel the effects of the problem, and did not take precautions to ensure that their toys did not contain lead.

This new law may ensure that we have less problems with lead poisoning, but it will also ensure that we have fewer products to choose from when shopping for our children.

Also, please know that most cases of lead poisoning are in adults who work in environments where they are exposed to lead, and most cases of lead poisoning in children are due to lead paint that still exists in the environment where they live. Neither of these scenarios are addressed in the new law.

About 25% of my business comes from items made for children - On February 10th I will loose that 25%. My business will survive, and I will just change directions. However, all of the cute handmade clothing, toys, and accessories that is made for children will disappear. Most of these items do not currently pose any lead poisoning hazard for children.

You can be confident that you will still be able to buy a toy from a company that recalled thousands and thousands of toys due to lead paint violations. But a single mother who sews clothing for little girls will join the line to collect food stamps and ask for additional government assistance.


Rachel Timmerman said...

Great post!

Kate said...

Thanks for writing this. It's amazing how many people still don't know about this law.

I own a brick and mortar shop and about half of my business is in handmade children's items. I don't know if I'll survive, especially considering the fact that business is slower than normal with the economy being as bad as it is.

Unknown said...

I agree with Kate. It floors me that so many people have no clue about this, and I honestly think that some of them do not believe it when you tell them.

And I agree with you as well. I am all for keeping my kids safe, but the extent that this law took it to is ridiculous!

Courtney said...

Thanks for sharing! I am having a really hard time with this and wrapping my mind around all the consequences!

Kristina said...

Great post. More people need to be informed about this and the consequences on small businesses. I think toys should need to be tested, but clothing!? Come on... There needs to be some middles ground where we ensure we are protecting our children, but also our economy and those small businesses that make America great.

Kathy said...

Thanks for all of the info. My heart goes out to the people won't be able to run their shops any longer. I understand the need for protecting our children, but it's a shame what the results are going to be.

Unknown said...

Great post. This is horrible and can be devastating to our already bad economy. When will they wake up and realize the mistakes they have made?!