Don’t Delay Rule on Lead in Children’s Toys

By Jerome Paulson

Starting on February 10th, companies won’t be able to sell children’s products that contain more than 600 parts per million total lead. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently clarified the requirements under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, and put to rest the fear that thrift stores and consignment stores would have to go through lead certification processes for all of the many products they sell. But some consumers and businesses are still concerned that the costs of third-party lead testing will be too high for small toymakers, and have started a petition to the CPSC.

I believe this effort is misguided, because our first responsibility has to be to protect children. No amount of lead is safe. Manufactures have the moral, as well as legal, responsibility to put toys and other children’s products on the market that are not harmful.

Concerns about not being able to buy hand-crafted, artisan wood toys or to market children’s books are a bit over blown. CPSC has been excruciatingly slow to get information out about how it plans to implement the new law. I expect that there will be mechanisms to resolve the many concerns raised.

Now is not the time to have Congress re-open this legislation and try to craft exceptions to it. Think of the mischief that could occur.  Little loopholes have an annoying propensity to become major loopholes. Can anyone think of a single safety initiative of the last 50 years that was not predicted to ruin the industry at which it was directed? Think about seat belts and air bags. They were impractical, too expensive and people would disable them or not use them. Both were going to be the ruination of the auto industry. While the auto industry is in tatters, it is certainly not because of seat belts and airbags.

As occupational and environmental health professionals we expect all size organizations to meet reasonable health and safety laws and regulations. The two-person construction company still has to reinforce its trench walls to prevent cave ins. The restaurant that has one venue has to meet the same health and safety regulations as the biggest chain. 

I would encourage people not to get on the bandwagon of trying to change the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Wait  until the new administration has time to reform the CPSC so that it can implement the law in the reasonable fashion that a professional regulatory organization should be able to do.

Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician and co-director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (MACCHE). He is an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health and in the Department of Prevention & Community Health at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, and an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at GW’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

Comments

  1. #1 DeputyHeadmistress
    January 28, 2009

    Nobody is advocating giving children lead toys. But this law requires expensive and tiresomely redundant testing of items that not only do NOT have lead- they can’t. Fabric makers and yarn testers have been soaking products in a lead solution and then testing them to see the likelihood that they have lead in them- it simply doesn’t stick, and it doesn’t make a good mordant for dye, so there is no useful purpose in requiring anybody to test yarn and fabric, leta alone the same batches multiple times because they are used to sew different shapes. A square pillow made of lead-free fabric is not going to suddenly become infused with lead because it was sewn into a round pillow instead, yet it has to be tested as though alchemy were possible.

    Consider:
    Toxic blood levels of lead affect 1.2% of children nationally- in 2006; this is down from 7.6% in 1997.
    Stats

    Most lead exposure comes from lead in housepaint and pipes, thus getting into childrens’ drinking water- a much bigger threat than sweaters, booties, stuffed animals, and even toys.

    CDC Data

    go here and select “Lead” as the hazard- all the lead recalls were for painted toys, children’s jewelry, and one screen printed item. So test or regulate those items, not items that pretty much CAN’T have lead (fabrics), or aren’t going to make a kid suck (they don’t suck on their bicycle tires.

    This bill is unworkable, but it makes Congress and consumer groups feel better and costs a lot of money without actually fixing any real problems in a meaningful way.

  2. #2 MLO
    January 28, 2009

    I don’t agree with your assessment of this law. It is poorly designed and does not actually accomplish its stated goals. Instead, it is an instrument of the largest manufacturers to destroy the small hand-made manufacturers – most of which have safer products.

    I’ve worked in a number of industries where these types of laws have been put in place to do nothing more than destroy small producers. The microchipping of cattle comes to mind first. But, there are a variety of such laws in telecommunications, for instance, that do nothing more than make it nigh unto impossible for smaller entities to even get into the market.

    The goal of the law is noble, but the implementation is, to put it plainly, idiotic. The reasonable implementation would put the onus on material manufacturers instead of goods manufacturers. By making materials manufacturers test and publish test results, goods manufacturers could create compliant products without incurring per unit costs at the scale the current law has created.

    There should also be some pretty obvious exceptions. Let’s see, homespun wool – whether from sheep, alpaca, llamas, goats, rabbits, or camels – is not going to threaten a childs’ safety. But the current law will majorly impact the growing and important microbusinesses that may be the only thing to keep the economy going in any real way.

    I’m for safety measures, but this does not target the real offenders. This law and its implementation smells of predatory competition.

  3. #3 Kathleen Fasanella
    January 29, 2009

    Your comments notwithstanding, there’s more to the law than is apparent. I represent 8,000 apparel producers of which 30% produce children’s products. Of this total number, ALL but *3* that I know of, will be put out of business by the CPSIA. Mind you, many of these producers are using standards that already far exceed standards outlined in CPSIA; lead levels are typically 6ppm, NOT 600ppm as stipulated under CPSIA.

    The difficulty lies in testing requirements. We must test our products twice. While final testing is required, why would we develop prototypes that may then fail so we test well before it gets close to production, after which CPSIA dictates we test again.

    There’s been a great deal of misinformation regarding testing costs. Special interest groups claim lead testing only costs $50. Frankly, we would be delighted -beside ourselves- if this were the case. I’ve written people making these claims asking for the names and numbers of CPSC certified labs that provide these services at this price but have yet to receive a response. Based on the vast array of testing quote estimates I’ve received from *every* CPSC certified lab, the only conclusion I am left with is that this is a sham. The least expensive test I’ve seen is $482 for one style in one color -and this estimate was from months ago. Rates of $1,000 per style are more typical now that the demand for services has undergone a multi-thousand fold increase with no commensurate increase in the number of labs available. Summary: a relatively tiny manufacturer producing only ten styles -your average tee shirt- in three colorways, will pay over $30,000 in testing fees TWICE, meaning a total of $60,000. Unfortunately, not only is $60,000 well in excess of their total production costs, it is also more than their *total sales*. It is thus that CPSIA will put the 68% of children’s wear producers with fewer than 20 employees out of business. Children’s wear is dominated by tiny companyies, not the Mattel target examples favored by special interest groups.