Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The CPSIA and its Unintended Consequences

I have been putting off writing this because it just makes me feel heartsick. I have felt a bit like chicken little whenever I have talked about this new law to my friends because when I bring up the consequences of this new law under the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, it feels like I'm saying the sky is falling. But for many of us with handcrafted products and small businesses, this really is the case.

To recap the law as I understand it, all products that are intended for the use of children under the age of 12 must now be sold with a Certificate of General Conformity. That certificate must state that the product in question has been certified for minimum parts per billion of lead and if applicable phthalate content. This includes fabrics, buttons, zippers, surface coated materials, toys, books, electronics, and the like. Basically nothing is exempt whether you make one of a kind items, or are the importer/manufacturer of articles that wind up in big box stores. It effects everyone. The manufacturers of the raw materials are not subject to this testing, because these items are not largely marketed to children themselves. It is up to the manufacturer of the item to perform the necessary testing.

Unfortunately, at this time, component testing is not allowed. Say for example I use 10 different fabrics (for me it's in the hundreds), and 15 different kinds of buttons, and 2 different zippers, and 1 kind of snap. I couldn't just take one of each and have each tested on its own. No, I would have to take hours of my time, sew each product as I do now, and submit it for testing. Well folks, there goes half my inventory right there, not to mention my time. The testing is destructive, so I wouldn't even get the original dress back. It just isn't feasible for us as micro-producers to do the testing in this way, or any manufacturer for that matter. The way the law is written it isn't possible to spread the cost of the testing out among several different styles because you have to test by unit, or each style.

In addition, while the government has ruled that phthalate content testing will not be retroactive from February 10th, 2009, lead testing will be. That means that my current stock becomes illegal to sell past February 10th, unless I submit my dresses to the necessary tests. Regarding the testing, it will cost anywhere between $100-200 at the current rate, and these rates are likely to go up as more manufacturers realize that they must get these tests performed by the deadline. There are only 14 labs that are certified in the U.S. to do this kind of testing. Do you know anyone who can afford a $200 jumper? I know I don't. Especially in the current economic state of our country.

It has taken me years to build up my wonderful fabric stash, and the thought of not being able to do what I love is simply heartbreaking. Of course the impetus for the new regulations stemmed from the fiasco of the imported toys from China last year and all of the ensuing recalls. Of course I want to protect our children from unsafe products, but unfortunately this law has gone way too far in its scope. The handmade movement was one of the results from parents wanting to purchase items produced in the U.S. by people who could be their neighbors and friends. Now our government has seen fit to take one more choice away from U.S. consumers and forced them back to products manufactured abroad, and large manufacturers who will have an easier time spreading the costs of testing over a larger product line.

But even the large manufacturers are not without their dilemmas. In a letter dated November 14th, 2008 to Ms. Cheryl Falvey, General Counsel to the CPSC, Mr. Richard Woldenberg, chairman of an educational toy company, stated that Walmart had informed its suppliers of children's products that it intends to return all merchandise regardless of age, that cannot be proven to comply with the new standards. Two other major retailers are rumored to have taken a similar position. If this is the case, you will absolutely see widespread corporate bankruptcies.

So here is what you can do. I am urging everyone to write to their legislators and call if you can, to tell them that you want this law amended or repealed to protect artisans and craftspeople who are simply trying to pay their mortgages and support their families. Write to tell them that you want a choice in the marketplace, and don't want to buy only mass produced items for your children. While everyone wants safe products, I am urging you to let them know that they are only hurting American families who are trying to do the right thing in the first place. I implore you to let them know that they should not be regulating things like fabric that have very little to no lead in them in the first place.

Here are some helpful links for more information: (The forum regarding the CPSIA has been opened to the public)

If you want to try to interpet the law yourself here are some of the goverment links :
A copy of the actual law as it stands today:
The general CPSIA website :
Standard Operating Procedure for Determining Total Lead :
Original CPSIA FAQs
Most recent updates to FAQs :
How CSPIA effects exsisting inventory & by extension vintage, resale, & recycling of children's items :

Here's links to write your district's congressperson and senate represenatives as long as your still a registered voter. Otherwise write directly to the CPSIA voicing your concern.

Thanks for doing all you can.


punchanella said...

thank you for posting this.

Ginny said...

what a sad time for all artisans of handcrafted children's items - good luck in your fight against this!

Trillium said...

Please pass this on -
HR4040 was the BILL and this has been passed into law. It is now called
a Senate bill with the number 110-314 and is called "consumer Products
Improvement Act of 2008".
Apparently small sellers may be excluded - i haven't checked the facts on this but here's the link: