CPSIA chronicles, February 6

A Wall Street Journal editorial this morning:

The runaway train that is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is heading toward a collision next Tuesday. … The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has voted to delay the requirements for one year but this will have little practical impact: The lead standards still apply and retailers don’t want to carry uncertified products lest they become targets of plaintiffs attorneys and state attorneys general. … Senator Jim DeMint is planning to offer an amendment to the stimulus package to [introduce some rationality into the law], though getting support for it will be a taller order.

Advocates of a maximally stringent CPSIA on Capitol Hill and among purported consumer groups won two victories yesterday. In one, a New York federal court struck down an interpretation by the CPSC that would have banned only the manufacture or importation, and not the sale, of children’s products containing certain phthalates (chemicals used in softening plastics) as of Feb. 10. The effect of that policy would have been to allow businesses to sell off old inventories until they were gone. The judge ruled that the law by its terms clearly bans sale as well, which means existing toy inventories either not free of the chemicals, or which cannot be practicably tested to disprove their presence, will presumably become valueless as of next Tuesday and headed for landfills. “It won’t be hard for them” (makers of children’s goods) to comply, said attorney Aaron Colangelo of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and one must assume Mr. Colangelo is willing to take the risk of becoming a laughingstock if that prediction doesn’t pan out. In the other ruling, the CPSC turned down an emergency request to suspend the law’s operation for six months.

In other news, the New York Times finally covered CPSIA yesterday. Well, actually, it only covered one sub-sub-category of the CPSIA catastrophe, the effective ban on kids’ dirt bikes, and only on its automotive blog Wheels rather than in the newspaper proper. But you have to start somewhere. And this morning it ran a brief AP item presenting the court decision on phthalates from the consumer groups’ point of view. As I’ve mentioned, the Times sets the tone for news coverage at many other news organizations, and it has still not seen fit to inform its readers that the law poses any problem whatsoever for crafters, small apparel makers, publishers of children’s books, libraries, resale and thrift stores, or the makers of board games, comic books, musical instruments, religious goods, hair scrunches, or ballpoint pens. Oh, except for that blog item on dirt bikes.

To pass from the ridiculous to the sublime, Lissa Harris has another great piece of reporting in the Boston Phoenix (“Congress’s War on Toys”), detailing the effects of the law — stay or no stay — on an importer of eco-friendly handicrafted European playthings, “hippy knitters in Somerville”, and a kids’ boutique in Jamaica Plain, among others.

New trade associations are springing up, like the recently formed “CPSC Legwear Coalition,” whose members felt it necessary to declare in a recent press release that “lead is not commonly used in legwear manufacturing.”

Ashland, Mass. toy importer Rob Wilson says

the consumer groups have lost a lot of credibility among the indie artisans, organic advocates, and environmentalists that should have been their biggest supporters on children’s safety.

Says Wilson: “I’m canceling my Consumer Reports subscription.”

Heartkeeper Common Room continues her great commentary with critiques of the reports that ran in CNNMoney.com and USA Today, as well as of a more recent (very belated and inadequate) Associated Press gesture toward reporting the story:

The AP says the law is applauded by parents and consumer advocates and jeered by industry — I am a parent, not in the industry, and I am jeering.

Great Gravy. [Sen. Mark] Pryor says it’s all [CPSC Acting Chairwoman Nancy] Nord’s fault because she had, like, five or six months and he doesn’t know what else she’s been doing. There is no mention of the fact that Congress also put all the nation’s swimming pools under CPSC jurisdiction, Nord says she’s met every deadline imposed by Congress, and there was a new gasoline burn prevention act they had to regulate, nor does the AP note that the Commission is seriously, and deliberately, undermanned by Congress and underfunded as well.

There’s also new coverage on NPR “Morning Edition” and the Des Moines Register.


  • Is the government setting itself up for reverse condemnation suits from companies and indivduals whose property becomes worthless as a result of government action?

  • I caught the NPR piece this AM – when I was in journalism school, we were taught to go for the “REAL STORY” – be uncompromising, challenging, tough, even willing to go to jail on behalf of getting at the truth. Why is our media completely ignoring the TRUTH and failing to DIG – to ask real sources – real citizens and parents a few questions?

    The story isn’t just about retailers – it’s about life in America – how we run (or don’t) our government, our core freedoms and rights, as citizens.

    The IDEA that anyone (as mentioned by interviewee in the NPR piece) in America would be okay with “resigning” to the reality of shopping a Black Market in this country is SHOCKING. What does this say about our sense of power, as citizens? I’m sorry – but this is a concept born of necessity in places where dictators and communism are the rule of the land – NOT in AMERICA.

    THIS is not the America my grandparents came over on a boat to experience and build. THIS is not the America I want for MY children. I am stunned at how far removed we citizens are from running the government – and how little concerned that seems to make us.

    I can’t help thinking about the Great Depression – how the ‘choices’ in reacting to the crisis only made things worse. This “choice” of CPSIA made and suppored by special interests and politicians (not WE the people) is going to boomerang, hitting us ALL between the eyes, and hard. It’s not enough that we lost another 600,000 jobs this last month alone…

    Still, we do NOT see the masses in the streets in one, great outcry. We do not see anything but citizens as hapless passengers on a ride to their own demise. I’m stunned.

    Perhaps our tactics of contacting politicians are wasted – perhaps it’s time for everyone to contact reporters, nonstop, at the NY Times…

    Thanks for the great coverage.
    Tristan Benz
    Maiden America

  • I too am shocked by the lack of outcry. Does you realize that the law prohibits anyone from “distributing into commerce” a children’s product containing excessive levels of lead or phthalates? A garage sale is a form of distributing into commerce. The penality for doing so is $100,000 per item. The CPSIA is an example of a well intentioned law that was poorly written, overly complicated and overly punitive. It is an example of bad government and the timing couldn’t be worse, given our current economic climate. As a small , we are going to have to dump $51.775 worth of legally purchased inventory because it contains phthalates. This is a terrible law!

  • […] to mention how the lead ban impacts everything from ball-point pens to comic books. WSJ Article CPSIA chronicles, February 6 Also, ck out article on impacts to dealers New Law Pulls Youth Dirt Bikes and ATV’s Off Showroom […]

  • Thank you, Mr. Olson, for your continuing steady hand in covering this issue.

    As an at-home mom with a business, I was elated last Friday at the CPSC’s press release concerning exemptions of textiles from the lead requirements, only to fall moments later at their press release regarding phthalates and “child care articles.” My blankets and bibs fall under these regulations; as yet, I cannot find a lab to test my items for a price I can even begin to afford.

    All I want to do is to help support my family and be self-sufficient. And this at a time when Congress is headed at a screaming pace to approving a stimulus package that serves only to grow the size of government and our dependence on it. Would it not be a better economic stimulus to allow businesses to thrive with minimal (read: necessary, common sense) regulations?

  • […] Nicer-than-mass-produced diaper covers; Toledo Physical Education Supply takes a hit; Michigan: Brandi Pahl wonders: What are they thinking? Arkansas: Closing of A Kidd’s Dream […]

  • […] Walter Olson, We blogged earlier about Honda’s and Kawasaki’s having pulled out of the U.S. market and ordered a halt to sales of their youth […]

  • What a joke. Just stumbled on this, and I am just dumbfounded. As a lifelong off road enthusiast and fan of dirt bikes, I’m inclined to take this just a bit personal. I will be adding this to my list of projects…

  • Why hasn’t anyone reported on the woeful situation of the CPSC budget? If the CPSIA was designed to help fund the agency, I don’t understand where the money is.

  • […] exemptions, we’ve been remiss in not staying on the case of ballpoint pens, mentioned in our Feb. 6 and Feb. 13 roundups. Deputy Headmistress has quite a bit more on the legal limbo occupied by the […]

  • i think it’s crazy to ban little kids from the fun and joy how cruel can someone be. They make protective gear to wear to keep them safe and there is supervision from an adult so i don’t understand what’s the problem and yeah hows the lead they so say gonna get into the boys or girls body? not too sure they but yeah i know theres a lot of people out there who are angry including myself

  • […] Aaron Colangelo of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who had litigated that case successfully, was quite dismissive about the difficulties of compliance at the time. Well, according to McCauley, that one decision […]

  • […] the phthalates ban is also extraordinarily burdensome, for a number of reasons: 1) as readers may recall, a successful lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others forced the last-minute […]

  • […] soft and bendable) is also extraordinarily burdensome, for a number of reasons: 1) as readers may recall, a successful lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others forced the last-minute […]

  • […] charge of $8.6 million due to the sudden loss of value of merchandise early this year when a court reinstated CPSIA’s retroactive ban on phthalates in children’s playthings. Mark Riffey also suggests Google searches combining […]