Here is a letter that I drafted to send to media outlets. I thought I would post it here for those of you who don't have the time or inclination to write one yourself. Please feel free to copy, paste, and send away.
Here is an idea for a story that will be affecting many businesses throughout the United States. The CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008) imposes a third-party testing requirement on all consumer products that are intended primarily for children 12 years of age and younger. Every manufacturer, including importers and private labelers must have its product tested by an accredited independent testing lab, and based on the test results must issue a GCC (general conformity certificate) that the product meets the requirements. The lead limit starts at 600 parts per million, but then over the course of the next several months, that limit drops to 300 ppm. The civil and criminal penalties for either not having a certificate or furnishing a false certificate are huge, including jail time and steep fines.
Right now, the law states that the testing can only be accomplished by unit or sku, not component testing. What this means for me is that even if I use several fabrics over three different products, and the same button, testing this fabric only once does not meet the requirement. I must test each unit, as it would be sold, even if the components are the same. This alone is wasteful, and doesn't necessarily make that product any safer. Say for example I only use one button on a garment, but that button is over the compliant limit. In the total weight of the garment, it would probably not make that unit non-compliant. However, if that button were tested alone, and found to be non-compliant, I would be forced to find a suitable alternative.
From now until August 9th, XRF technology (x-ray fluorescence) is allowed under a "reasonable testing program" to issue the GCC. An XRF gun can detect levels of lead as low as 2 ppm, and is non-destructive. The wet chemistry test that is mandated in August by a third party accredited lab is not only destructive to the product, but uses noxious chemicals that will subsequently be released into the environment. It is also extremely expensive. Richard Woldenberg, Chairman of Learning Resources, Inc. received an estimate for testing his company's telescopes at $26,000. This particular product has an annual sales number of about $32,000. Clearly there would be no economic incentive for his company to continue to produce that product.
A small point right now, but there are only 16 accredited labs in the U.S., and 70 worldwide. This has vast implications for pricing, estimating costs of testing, and also turnaround times. There simply are not enough accredited labs that do this kind of testing for all of the kid’s products out there.
Many of the business owners I have spoken with are extremely concerned with the materials and supplies that go into their products. The handmade movement was in part born out of a desire for non-toxic children's products. But unfortunately, the CPSC considers us all guilty until proven innocent. The fabric manufacturer has already tested my own fabrics, but I cannot use their certification as part of my own testing program. I must retest myself. There are already international standards for fibers that exceed the requirements of the CPSIA, (oeko-tex is one example) yet I cannot use this internationally recognized standard as part of my GCC.
The problems with the law are pretty clear for small businesses, but even large businesses are not without their problems. JC Penney, Walmart, Target, and other large retailers have already informed their vendors that if they can't produce a GCC as of February 10th, they will be returning their products. Many large producers have loans out on existing "saleable" inventory, but when that inventory isn't saleable anymore, there might be large defaults on loans and more corporate bankruptcies.
There is a whole other angle to this law as well. Resale and thrift stores are not exempt from compliance. The CPSC regards everything that hasn't been tested as a "banned hazardous substance." I haven't been able to confirm this, but there have been reports of some thrift stores not accepting any more children's products. To think of what damage this might do to the average lower income family who relies on these stores to clothe their children is unfathomable. Resale shops can simply not afford to test each item they have in their current inventory. Nor can they afford to throw it all away, not to mention the environmental cost of these items winding up in landfills. The CPSC issued a "supposed" clarification for resale shops, and they basically reiterated the law. A shop does not have to test, but they cannot sell anything over the lead limit after February 10th. So, it is a circular argument. How are the owners supposed to know what the lead content is unless they test.
So costs for children's items will most definitely rise, not to mention that ultimately the consumer will be paying for less choice in the marketplace. The small producers won't be able to pay for the testing, which leaves only the large producers to be left with product in the marketplace. I am a consumer too, and I want safe, non-toxic products for my own child. But this law will not accomplish what it sets out to do as it is currently written.
Here are some useful links for you. The NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) has the best petition out there, as it encompasses all of our concerns and is applicable to every manufacturing situation. Richard Woldenberg has some excellent videos on youtube.com, just search for Richard Woldenberg, and you'll find them. Kathleen Fasanella is an apparel industry veteran, and she has opened the CPSIA section of the member forum to the public. Her blog is http://www.fashion-incubator.com. Rob Wilson is the leader of www.cpsia-central.ning.com. Jennifer Taggart is an environmental lawyer and blogger, and can be contacted through www.thesmartmama.com.
A copy of the actual law as it stands today: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpsia.pdf
The general CPSIA website : http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsia.html
The NAM Petition: http://www.toyassociation.org/AM/PDFs/Safety/CPSCPetition1208.pdf
Rick Woldenberg: http://learningresourcesinc.blogspot.com/
I look forward to hearing from you regarding this important story.
little girl Pearl