January 17, 2010

Warning: Tagless labels in baby clothes and the CPSIA

My sister sent me an update on the problem. It appears that the re-formulated paints may include latex tainted paint, similar to silk screen paint. My niece had another reaction even worse than previous because her entire back flared up red. The pediatrician suggested my niece now has a latex allergy and possible nickel allergy. Latex allergies can develop over time with multiple exposures.

Well over two years ago, Carter's and the CPSC issued an advisory to parents about tagless or heat transfer labels located in the back neck of their clothing. They had received reports that the labels were causing allergic reactions and irritation. The advisory stated that the reported incidents were rare and a small percentage of the thousands of units produced. The affected product was primarily the Fall 2007 line. This means the product was manufactured early 2007 or late 2006.

It is difficult to know what ingredient in the labels is causing the reaction. Some have suggested formaldehyde. Others suggest it is the pthalates, which exist at a far higher concentration than other products. It is puzzling that with documented problems that neither Carter's or the CPSC have done a more thorough investigation. Instead the CPSC is bogged down with debates over the amount of lead in the brass ball of an ink pen or whether a bicycle manufacture can use lead in a tire valve. Surely the CPSIA, that ultimate guardian of children's safety would not have allowed this kind of problem to persist. One has to wonder where the consumer protection groups are on this? Why aren't they making a big stink?

You would think that a product that proved to be a problem would have been resolved by now. No. Carter's released their Spring 2009 line with a reformulated ink and label style - two years later. Because there was no product recall there is an untold amount of product still floating around. (Even with a recall, there would still be a lot of product out there because recalls rarely recover 100% of sold merchandise).

You can accuse me of hysteria or panic if you choose. I'm most guilty of cynicism about federal regulations that don't seem to actually accomplish intended goals. But the reason I am writing this is because my youngest niece suffered a reaction to a tagless label. I was even more incensed when I saw this picture.

A tagless label in a baby bodysuit or onesie

You see this label does not even belong to Carter's. It's an Arizona Jean Co. bodysuit, a private label product for JCPenny. The brown around the label is actually my niece's blood! You can see the rash on her back below.

Allergric reaction to a tagless label in a baby onesie

My sister purchased the bodysuit in Fall of 2008 in anticipation of need later in 2009. It wasn't after her baby had worn the bodysuit a few times that she realized the source of the problem. My sister reported the problem to JCPenny and was told she would be refunded her money and receive new product. She was also advised to report the problem to the CPSC herself (which she is doing). Huh? Since I have worked on private label programs for JCPenny, I know how meticulous and thorough they are with safety. This is surprising to say the least.

This is all rather troubling. Doesn't the CPSC require companies to report safety problems immediately? Of course the CPSC may receive a report but how long will it take for them to react, especially now? This problem illustrates how upside down the whole system has become*. We focus all of our energy in silly debates about ink pens, ban rhinestones with no bio-available lead and spend all of our time recalling toys with minuscule amounts of lead - all with no reported injuries. Compare that with the many reports of injuries related to these labels, and we get, well, nothing.

Spring 2009 is two years after the initial reports. Why so long? Why not switch to traditional labeling in the interim? Carter's claims they went tagless to improve the comfort factor - no scratchy label. Well, a scratchy label can be cut out and the problem removed. A tagless label on a baby's bodysuit is not easily removed and must be thrown out. After all this, I think I prefer traditional labels.

Stacked brand and care-content labels

*In fairness, the CPSC is working on a consumer database to report incidents as required by law. They are in the process of comment gathering and workshops. Problems can be reported now, but the information required by the CPSIA is not publicly available. If anything, the CPSC should look at a complete overhaul of their entire website which is a disorganized mess. But that is an argument for another day.


  1. That's very disturbing, but sadly, doesn't surprise me. This reminds me of the whole hullabulloo about the BPA in some plastics and how it seems the agency which oversees this has been bought out by the plastics industry. The responsiblility of keeping one's children and oneself safe from products in the stores falls upon the consumer.

  2. Anonymous10:33 AM

    Thanks for writing this! My daughter just got the same rash.

  3. Anonymous7:00 AM

    I also got a rash connected with tagless labeling. I am not hyper sensitive and allergy prone and I'm in my 50's!