In our previous posts about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), the federal law passed by Congress last year in the wake of the panic over Chinese toys with lead paint, we noted that it threatened to drive out of business a lot of small makers of wooden toys and other childrens’ products who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars per lot to confirm the absence of lead paint (or phthalates, another banned substance) in their wares. A group called Handmade Toy Alliance has formed to call attention to the law’s burden on small manufacturers, and offers further detail at its website.
As reports in the last week make clear, however, a second economic disaster is also looming: thrift and secondhand stores around the country sell a large volume of clothing, toys and other items meant for use by those under 12, and are now exposed to stringent liability under the law. “The reality is that all this stuff will be dumped in the landfill,” predicted Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. Among the biggest losers if stores stop selling secondhand kids’ items: poorer parents who would have trouble dressing a growing family if they had to buy, say, winter coats new for $30 rather than used for $5 or $10. The regs are scheduled to take effect Feb. 10.
On January 8, as press coverage mounted, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) rushed out a supposed clarification of the regulations: thrift shops, eBay sellers and other second-hand retailers would not be compelled to institute testing programs on all items sold, the way manufacturers would. But the commission made clear that if the stores do wind up selling any secondhand products containing the substances — phthalates, for example, are often found in bendy plastics — they face both criminal liability and civil fines (which run up to $100,000). It isn’t required that the store know or should have known that a pre-2009 item was in violation, and of course it isn’t required that anyone be harmed by the good (the entire episode has gone on with a near-total absence of any showing that actual kids had been harmed by the products swept from American shelves).
None of which seems to faze some advocates of the new measure. At Law and More, Jane Genova quotes Sue Gunderson, executive director of an anti-lead-paint group called ClearCorps:
What thrift stores seem to be requesting [in Gunderson’s view] is for the right to expose children to health and safety hazards. “Let’s get our priorities straight,” she insists. She goes on to pose this rhetorical question: “Mmmmmm, do we want cheap, second-hand toys that could damage children?” She frames this issue as a “business” one which the thrift-store industry will have to solve just as will every other business impacted by the new act.
If you think this is all too crazy to actually be happening, wait until you read the Boston Phoenix’s piece on the law’s threat to libraries:
“We are very busy trying to come up with a way to make it not apply to libraries,” said [Emily] Sheketoff [associate executive director of the American Library Association]. But unless she succeeds in lobbying Capitol Hill for an exemption, she believes libraries have two choices under the CPSIA: “Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she says, “or they ban children from the library.”