Saturday, January 03, 2009

Laws with unintended consequences

Last August, HR4040 was quietly signed into law. Known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, it has the laudable aim of ensuring the safety of all toys, clothing, and other products marketed to children under age 12. In pursuit of this, it requires third party lead testing of every single product meant for children, no matter the components used to make the product and no matter the size of the business.

The unintended consequence is that I, and thousands of other artisans, will be forced out of business. HR4040 requires that every baby carrier, blanket, or burp cloth that I make be tested for lead, at a cost of about $4000 per item. Since my items are all one-of-a-kind, I can't pay a one-time fee to get a sling tested, I would have to pay it for every sling.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's website,

All children’s products (as defined by the CPSIA) subject to the lead limit of the Act will eventually require testing for lead, not just those with surface coatings.

Children’s products manufactured after February 10, 2009, when the lead limit may not exceed 600 ppm, will need a general conformity certification based on a test of the product or a reasonable testing program for products after that date. Children’s products manufactured after August 14, 2009, when the lead limit may not exceed 300 ppm, will have to be certified based on third-party testing of the product by accredited third party laboratories after that date.

For those of us who are sole proprietors or have just a few employees, hand-crafting our items, it is simply not possible to conform to the requirements of this law.

It is tempting to think "I'm a little guy - they'll never even notice me" and ignore it. But built into HR4040 are strong deterrents to this thinking: $100,000 fines per violation and up to five years in prison. Sure, they might not notice me. But if they did? It isn't a risk worth taking.

The unintended consequences go farther than just putting me and other artisans out of business. The LA Times online posted an article yesterday detailing the results of the law on thrift stores:

Barring a reprieve, regulations set to take effect next month could force thousands of clothing retailers and thrift stores to throw away trunkloads of children's clothing.

The law, aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products sold for those age 12 and younger -- including clothing -- be tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable. Those that haven't been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of whether they actually contain lead. (Emphasis mine.)

I think that the people who drafted, supported, passed, and signed this law had the best of intentions. But it is written far too broadly and without thought for the unintended results. It is in desperate need of amendment.

The Handmade Toy Alliance is working towards that goal. You can join their group on Facebook, and they have written a sample letter that you can use. Etsy has an open letter regarding the CPSIA. You can contact your congressional representatives and senators, as well as the Small Business Ombudsman.

I also strongly recommend writing to Representative Bobby Rush, the sponsor of the bill. If you are an artisan, you might like to send a small handmade children's item to him, along with a letter explaining your opposition to the bill and pointing out that the item you have sent will be considered "hazardous material" as of February 10th.

HR4040 is already law. We can't change that now, but we can cause our representatives to take another look at the repercussions of the law and consider the need for amendments.

So please, if you care about handmade toys for your little ones, or the availability of thrift store clothing for children, or have a friend who (like me) is about to lose their business, take a few minutes and write your representatives. It matters.

Save Handmade Toys


Amber said...

Oh wow - our congress critters at work. *sigh*

I think I like it better when they just bicker and don't manage to get anything done.

I'll certainly write some letters - this is ridiculous!

(So says a woman who is currently shopping for light figures and having to having to spend about 50% more on some of them because the CA congress critters have decided that fluorescents are the greatest thing ever, despite their expense, mercury content, and complicated disposal requirements)

Ma Torg said...

That is about one of the dumbest things I've heard of. Thank you, bureaucracy...speedy laws are always better than carefully thought out ones...cough...cough

Jessica said...

Just emailed both our senators and my rep.