In January, the ball was dropped when Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) deferred the February 10, 2009 deadline that it set in 2008 for producers and importers of children's goods to test for lead and phthalates, chemicals commonly used in plastics.
The initial deadline was set last summer when Congress imposed the toughest lead standards in the world by passing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The measure requires testing to ensure children's products don't contain more than 600 parts per million for children 12 or younger. The law was driven by a national outcry by parents and health experts over a series of recalls of toys and children's products contaminated by lead and other dangerous material.
Because young children often chew on toys and can thus easily absorb toxins, it is of critical importance to make sure these products are free of potentially dangerous chemicals. In 2005, the European Union permanently banned phthalates as they have been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and developmental problems in children.
While the decision to delay testing gives manufacturers more time to establish guidelines for testing of products and offers businesses relief from paying for the testing-which can be quite expensive; up to $15,000-it raises questions about how retailers will know whether the toys they already on their shelves meet existing federal lead standards. And while larger manufacturers say they can handle the costs of compliance, "Mom and Pop" toy and children's clothing makers say the costs of the testing could put them out of business in the current economy.
A CPSC spokesperson said the goal of the postponement was to give companies a more realistic timetable to set up rigorous testing procedures. Manufacturers and importers could still, however, face civil and criminal penalties if they sell products that exceed mandatory lead and phthalates limits, mandatory toy standards, and other requirements. Currently manufacturers must test children's products for small parts than may break off, lead content in children's jewelry, and lead paint, especially on items such as cribs.
The industry is still awaiting guidance on whether toys and clothing made from natural materials will be exempted from the law. And a disturbing fact: the stay of enforcement on testing does not address thrift and second-hand stores because they are not required to test and certify products under the CPSIA because they blasted the commission with objections.
CPSC spokeswoman, Julia Valiese emphasized that secondhand stores cannot sell products that exceed lead limits and should avoid products that could contain lead. The commission urges thrift and secondhand stores to visit its website at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09120.html to help determine whether a product meets the lead standard and other guidelines.
A press release issued by the CPSC on February 6, 2009 states: "Sellers will not be immune from prosecution if CPSC's Office of Compliance finds that someone had actual knowledge that one of these children's products contained more than 600 ppm lead or continued to make, import, distribute or sell such a product after being put on notice. Agency staff will seek recalls of violative children's products or other corrective actions, where appropriate." Still, some merchants have understandable confusion about the new law and how to comply.
In a statement from a coalition of public interest organizations released in January, the group urges the commission to "promptly address reasonable concerns that have been raised regarding compliance, and provide better information about the new law," agreeing that while the law is fundamentally sound, it also urges President Obama to appoint new leadership at the CPSC to help implement the measure.