On February 10, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 goes into effect. Written in reaction to a 2007 scare about lead paint in Chinese manufactured toys, such as Thomas the Tank Engine, the law is designed to protect American children from further scares involving lead paint and dangerous chemicals. Unfortunately, like the toy that inspired it, the law is a trainwreck, a case study in good intentions doing harm through short-sighted legislation.
If this law is not amended, or better still repealed, you won't be able to buy handmade toys for children, backpacks, books aimed at the kid's market, or cotton diapers. The people who make wooden tops, print books like "The Great Brain" or "A Wrinkle In Time" or make cotton diapers, you see, simply cannot afford third party lab testing (estimated at $4000 a lot, often higher) to prove that their products do not contain lead. So they'll go out of business.
To abuse another metaphor, the CPSIA is a shotgun fired at a wasp:
After the recall of millions of toys manufactured in China in 2007, Congress passed the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) last year to protect children from lead and phthalates. Under the new guidelines, which are set to take effect Feb. 10, any product manufactured for children under 12 must undergo third-party testing for certification.
The law isn't just for toys, stress critics, who say it is too sweeping and will unfairly impact small businesses. Clothing, backpacks, bicycles, books, science equipment – anything intended for a child under 12 is affected. They argue that the law, however well-intentioned, has the potential to cause thousands of small US businesses to close at a time when unemployment is surging and the country is entering its second year of recession.
"Once again, here's a situation where it's the small business that suffers the most," says Kathryn Howard, an environmental and consumer expert with the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology. "Mattel can easily afford to test every one of their Barbie dolls. The smaller guys are the ones that manufacture in the US – as opposed to China and other parts of the world.
Consider Amy Turn Sharp, mentioned in the linked story. Ms. Sharp started her business in response to the lead paint scare. She and her husband hand-turn maple toy trains. A business operating on that scale simply cannot afford to pay labs in distant locations to certify the obvious: that maple does not contain lead. Yet this law, which has no exemptions and is aimed at any consumer product targeted at children under 12, will require her to do just that. So she's out of business.
No child died as a result of the Chinese lead paint scare. A number of children, whose families run small businesses, are certainly going to be a lot poorer in coming weeks unless this law is repealed or amended. Yet the media, with only a few exceptions like the story above, isn't covering this law, which threatens to bankrupt domestic industries when we're already in a recession. The big media, unfortunately, don't like stories about the ill effects of laws that are passed in response to panics which the big media themselves create. And make no mistake: the Chinese lead paint scare of 2007 was largely a media creation.
Instead it's bloggers, left, right, and center, and the small businesses affected who are getting the word out. There has been fine coverage of this problem from Overlawyered, Culture11, My Charmed Life, Publius Endures, Upturned Earth, Fashion Incubator, and many more. The New York Times, CNN, and Fox, on the other hand, maintain a studious silence.
The issue is beginning to catch on, and the media are beginning to take notice, as have a few members of congress. Perhaps it would be worth your time, or your kids' time, to push a little harder. Yes, as silly as it sounds, I'm urging you to write your congressman, to ask for a repeal of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
Do it for the children.