Home-based “lead” heads?

Domestic Policy, Economics & Law, Family Issues — By on January 19, 2009 at 11:50 am

Robin’s post below pointed out the difficulties that the new CPSIA law will pose for big businesses, but there’s more to the story. Unfortunately, many small home-based businesses will be effectively shut down. Here’s a report from just one small-business owner:
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.

For more on the CPSIA’s impact on small business, see here, here, and here.



  • ex-preacher

    It could be that this law needs to be amended to protect handmade crafts.
    What I find interesting, though, is this statement from one of your links that essentially refutes Robin’s entire point that this law would damage the manufacturing industry:
    “All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels.”

  • G Man

    I’m curious, ex-preacher – how many dollars is it worth per child to prevent the brain damage than can result from lead poisoning?
    Are you really willing to have all those hand-made, one-of-a-kind, made-in-the-garage items go untested? Aren’t they the likely items to have the lead?
    – and do you condone legislation that puts the small businessperson out of business because only the large manufacturer, who makes thousands of units, will have “very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels.”
    This legislation really was not very well thought out. But I just know the feds will do a better job with nationalized healthcare!

  • Chuck

    While the law seems to be good in theory it really just distracts from the major cause of lead poisoning – lead paint. This is by far and away the largest source. I work for a health department and we deal with lead. My coworkers and I can only think of one situation where a child got lead poisoning from a toy (and it wasn’t insidious it was a key chain charm). The sad truth is there is a limited amount of money to be spent on the problem, and it needs to be put where the problem actually is.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Several things:
    1. The law does not require every toy be tested. It requires the manufacturer to issue a certificate stating that the toy is free from lead (and certain other chemicals) and provide name and address information. The certificate goes to the retailer so if a contanimated toy does show up it can be traced back to the person who made it. The certificate has to be backed up by a reasonable testing program but that doesn’t mean every item is tested. Such a rule would be impossible since testing would probably damage or destroy the toy to begin with.
    2. The implementing regulations are still being written so I suspect a lot of the potential problems here can be addressed by writing reasonable regulations. Among them would be:
    If you’re using domestic raw materials, such as paint, you can bypass lab testing if your raw materials themselves are certified by the manufacturer. Or if you’re assembling kits produced by a larger company your certificate will simply be one issued by them assuming you’re not adding anything to the product.
    If you’re using totally organic materials that one would not normally expect to have lead such as wood, plants, stones etc. you’re exempt from testing unless you’re very large scale.
    They also might define manufacturer in such a way as to exclude ‘artisans’ who are creating one of a kind items.
    Many times the law itself is vague and almost impossible to read. The real action happens in how the law is intrepreted and implemented which is why this law may not have to be amended or changed if the CPSC writes sensible regulations to implement it.

  • ZZ

    I think the problem is that in the Mattel case, ALL of the toys, or at least a large percentage of them, had some lead in them. Say you produce toys in lots of 10,000 pieces, and you test one and find that it has no lead? Does that mean all the rest have no lead? It depends. If you have a reason to think the supplier used the same material in all of them (like you know he can only buy material in large lots, like with paint), then maybe. But if you think there’s a chance that he just randomly uses lead in a few and not in others, then no way. But that’s a value judgement, not a statistical judgement.

  • ZZ

    I think the problem is that in the Mattel case, ALL of the toys, or at least a large percentage of them, had some lead in them. Say you produce toys in lots of 10,000 pieces, and you test one and find that it has no lead? Does that mean all the rest have no lead? It depends. If you have a reason to think the supplier used the same material in all of them (like you know he can only buy material in large lots, like with paint), then maybe. But if you think there’s a chance that he just randomly uses lead in a few and not in others, then no way. But that’s a value judgement, not a statistical judgement.

  • http://www.rocksinmydryer.net Shannon @ Rocks In My Dryer

    Thanks for the link, Joe, and for helping to bring attention to this case of gross over-reaching by the government. It breaks my heart to think of how many industrious, creative people will be put out of business by this law.

  • http://www.getpaid4surveys.co.uk work from home

    I think the problem is that in the Mattel case