Most new regulations stir up contention from some front or another, and we didn't expect the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act to be any different. Last week, several groups voiced concern, confusion, and complaints about the projected effect the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) might have on small businesses.
The CPSIA, which was signed into law in August 2008, marks the most significant overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission since its establishment in the 1970s. The legislation effectively bans lead in children's products, requires safety testing of toys and other children's products before they're sold, and increases both the resources and the authority of the CPSC.
On February 10th, a major provision of the CPSIA takes effect, setting limits on the amount of lead that can be used in children’s products. To prove compliance with the new regulations, manufactures must get their products tested and certified by an independent lab, and retailers must make sure that the products they sell meet the new regulations.
Small toymakers and artisans represented by the Handmade Toy Alliance say the cost of that testing may be prohibitively expensive. A similar issue has been voiced by sellers of secondhand goods such as thrift stores and consignment shops, represented by the National Association of Resellers and Thrift Stores who say they have no way of knowing if the products on their shelves contain excessive amounts of lead unless they’re tested. This has prompted deep concern among members of the small-business community, who fear that the new laws will drive them under. Some have dubbed February 10, 2009 as “National Bankruptcy Day.”
Consumers Union, along with a half dozen other public interest groups, has urged federal regulators to immediately provide additional guidance and clarity to help address those concerns. In a letter sent to Acting CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord, the groups have pushed the CPSC to inform manufacturers and retailers how to comply with the new legal requirements and to outline what the true cost of testing will be. And we've asked the agency to work with secondhand sellers to keep dangerous products off their shelves while also presenting commonsense solutions for those stores. The CPSC tried to do that in a press release issued last week, but unfortunately we’re not sure the “clarifications” make the new law any clearer.
The CPSC has proposed exempting certain products and materials from their regulations. But many in industry are calling for even broader exemptions that may undermine the goals of the new legislation. While it’s easy to understand the difficulties small businesses face in this time of economic uncertainty, the risk is that the goals of the new legislation will be weakened. Let’s not forget what led to the new regulations in the first place: Almost 30 million unsafe children’s products were recalled last year, and even more the year before that. Many products containing hazardous levels of lead made it onto store shelves and into homes because the CPSC has been so underfunded, understaffed and underpowered that it couldn't do its job. The CPSIA was designed to solve those problems.
The CPSC needs to demonstrate strong leadership to help guide compliance with the new laws. The CPSIA should not be a stumbling block for responsible manufacturers and retailers. The CPSC has the authority and the obligation to see that this important safety legislation does what it was intended to do.