January 09, 2009

The problem with Exemptions and the CPSIA

I think I have been a part of a very minor group of protesters who want a repeal of the CPSIA 2008. The idea has generally been quashed because it doesn't give the appearance "of playing along" or "of being cooperative". See, everyone wants the safest products for children so they are willing to play along with stricter regulations. Perhaps some new safety rules are needed, but the CPSIA is a bureaucratic, chaotic mess.

A repeal may be near impossible to get. It would require vote hungry lawmakers to admit they made a mistake. Who wants to admit they didn't read the darn thing before voting on it? We know most of them didn't because they by and large act with shock when their constituents tell them the truth. What lawmakers want to face angry constituents who insist on stronger regulation to protect children? No, they all patted themselves on the back because they did something to protect a vulnerable population. It was feel good legislation built on a foundation of emotionalism and fear mongering.

So anyway, every industry touched by this wants an exemption. Bicycle makers can't make strong welds without lead. Clothing has little to no lead, which washes out). Book makers use soy ink, so few books would have lead. Electronic devices have internal lead which is inaccessible, micro cottages want permission because they do one-of-a-kind or sell to a very small customer base (small exposure). Resale shops could never test all of their random product. All of these are legitimate reason to exempt a particular industry. If the exemptions we need are granted, we will kind of be back where we started pre-CPSIA.

The CPSC has issued a couple of exemptions. Though the exemptions are largely lip service without any real meat behind them. For example the natural materials exemption. Natural materials such as wood and cotton are exempt as long as they are left in their natural state. Well such an exemption doesn't really help the textile industry because nearly all textiles are processed in some way. White cottons have been bleached and/or dyed white. Such actions mean that the exemption no longer applies. Have you seen unbleached and unprocessed cotton? It's not all that attractive. But if you can build a clothing company around unbleached cotton muslin with unfinished wood buttons, be my guest.

Let's face another fact. Lead is a natural element of our planet. So according to the exemption (if we were to take the extreme interpretation), we could sell unprocessed lead because it is a natural material. But that wouldn't make sense, now would it.

The next exemption on resale stores is another problem. Perhaps the CPSC was begining to feel the pressure. But if you read the actual press release, resale stores are not really off the hook. They can continue their business, but if they do happen to sell product that does not conform they still face criminal prosecution. Floating around twitter is this statement:

Thrift exempt is like telling your kid they don't need to brush teeth, but spanking them if they have bad breath!
Resale shops could still have the CPSC police show up at their door. (I guess we could trust the CPSC when they say they won't target thrift stores, but the language of the law and the exemption hasn't changed. IOW, the door is still open that they could inspect your business if and when they have enough money and CPSC police). All it would take is a guerilla group or investigative reporter to go into any shop with an XRF gun and turn you in. Really, there are regular retail shops dealing with this scenario now.

So Resale shops exercise their business at their own risk. And really, most retailers will be operating like this on February 10, 2009. The hammer won't necessarily fall on that day, but it will when a CPSC policeman or bureaucrat wants to look like they accomplished something.

We never needed this new legislation. I know it sounds unbelievable that Congress really didn't need to act. The CPSC already had sufficient power to enact new safety rules. They had this power when the agency was created in the 1970's to develop safety standards, issue recalls, and ban certain products. If new lead regulation was needed, the agency could have acted on its own. It had that power. The idea that it required an "act of congress" to create new regulations was false. Perhaps Congress could have passed something that said, "We are increasing the fines and we expect new regulations that address concerns with lead in toys to be enacted within the next year." Maybe Nancy Nord didn't want to stick her neck out and actually accomplish something other than lobbyist paid trips.

Anyway, the CPSC has passed various regulations over the years. Flammability and sleepwear, painted metal, drawstrings, and children's jewelry. They even repealed one (Tris in pajamas). All this happened without much intervention from Congress. Does this agency not have a backbone? Let's repeal this act and let's allow industry and science be involved in the crafting the few rules that are needed.


  1. We'll put you in charge of the recall effort. You're right, some of us have to put on a front of 'cooperating' because of those we represent because if we don't, we're blasted as putting money before children's safety. I have to be conservative because I have to cover the gamut of opinions of those I represent, not that what I say publicly reflects how I feel individually.

    I think the solution -really- is to create as much uproar and obfuscation over the law as possible, coming from as many camps as possible, with outrage directed at as many groups as possible (can anyone say "special interest groups" who wrote this law?).

  2. Great article! I'm not nec against tougher standards, but these are way out of line! Additionally, they are not providing any guidance and barely any clarification, but expecting ALL retailers and manufacturers to comply.

    I disagree with statements that have been made (not by you, just in general) that manufacturers NEED to suck it up and comply. Why? How could a person who makes one or a few of a kind (esp a clothing item) label those to comply. It's just totally unrealistic!

    I wonder how much Nancy's salary is. And if we need to protect children from all these dangerous things, shouldn't we protect ALL people from them?

  3. Agreed, thank you!

  4. Such a well thought out post, I agree with you completely. Would it be alright if I reposted on my blog, with attribution (of course) and a link back to your blog?

  5. Please repost my blog with attribution. I can't spread the word alone.

  6. Thank you Esther, I agree that we all need to work together to spread awareness. Here is a link to my post: http://justaddcharm.blogspot.com/2009/01/different-approach-cpsia.html

  7. Thank you, thank you! Great blog, keep it coming. Advocacy with Congress is critical now - please write your Congressmen ASAP, again and again. They need to HEAR you. Thanks.

    Rick Woldenberg

  8. Hi Esther,

    I just posted your blog entry in its entirety with attribution on my blog - thanks so much!