Monday, May 10, 2010

Assuring Product Safety for Kids

Today I read that another dangerous product had been recalled-- the Best Friends charm bracelet, marketed to children in the U.S. As a consumer, an artisan, & a grandmother, I'm always shocked when a manufacturer anywhere knowingly exposes children to toxic products.

What preventive action is the U.S. taking to protect our kids? CPSIA -- nightmare legislation.

Since 2008, I've heard about CPSIA. It mandates that most raw materials & end-products obviously designed for "children" -- anyone under 13 -- be tested & certified as lead-free & phthalates-free. Presumably CPSIA will expand its list of banned materials periodically. Too bad that I don't have a law degree because without one, understanding the regs will be a challenge for any small business owner, however conscientious. This flowchart (not intended as legal advice) by the Handmade Toy Alliance makes some sense of dense pages of CPSIA legalese.

To understand what's terrible about the implementation of CPSIA regs, let's look at an example of the processing sequence from manufacturing to purchasing by the parent for a child. Assume I make & sell handmade jewelry for children. (Thankfully I don't & I won't! I created Ladybugs below, using copper wire, as a gift for my granddaughter.) Assume I want to buy a batch of mystery metal wire with a silver finish because it's cheap. Because that mystery wire is not obviously intended for children, all producers & sellers of that wire are exempt from testing it under CPSIA regs. I also buy a batch of generic-looking inexpensive clasps, spools of coated beading wire, and dozens of red ladybug resin beads. Except for the ladybug beads (clearly intended for children), all are exempt from testing like the mystery metal wire. BUT if I combine these components to create necklaces designed for children, I must certify that ALL the components are free of lead & specified chemicals. Assuming I received written certification when I bought the ladybug beads that they tested safe (since they were made for children), I must have 3 of my 4 components tested at roughly $100 per test so I can document the safety of this batch of ladybug necklaces. When I purchase a new batch of raw materials, I must re-test & re-certify my next batch of ladybug necklaces. Note that all businesses that buy the untested metal, beading wire, & clasps I described to create their own products designed for children must repeat the same expensive tests I did to comply with existing CPSIA. The goal of the law is spot-on, but the procedures are redundant, wasteful, & will either bankrupt small businesses & artisans OR drive them underground.
THE POLITICALLY-INCORRECT REALITY: We all know the source of most dangerous raw materials & finished products we import. But in our Country of Political Correctness, we pretend we don't! Instead of burdening our small businesses with testing, why not spot-check ANY cargo ships of any nation arriving with goods from China? Stop the dangerous goods at its points of entry into the U.S., as we successfully did with the Best Friends bracelets? Levy heavy fines, with a 3 Strikes You're Banned policy for any exporter in China who violates our regulations. Honestly, except for children's products exempt from CPSIA regs, I don't know why any small manufacturer or artisan would make products for children. They should seriously consider opening product-safety testing labs instead...

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