Dear Rep. Dingell:
I appreciate your interest in the CPSIA and your desire to find the real impact of this law and what needs to be done to correct the unintended effects. I commend you on your leadership and willingness to help give us a voice. I want to provide information to you from my perspective.
We are an importer of natural toys, primarily from Europe. Our product line includes organic cotton dolls, wooden food & animals painted with water based dyes. All of our wooden products are made from sustainable forests. The dyes used by our products are not only free of lead, they are free of azos, urethane, chlorates, and are VOC free. We have built a business on selling products made of the finest materials. Our customers demand it from us, and we seek out the most creative, high quality manufacturers to represent.
We also manufacture two products here in the USA, despite the high cost of doing so. We provide manufacturing jobs to depressed parts of Massachusetts & Maine. We can make it work, because there is growing demand for products made in this country. We are therefore concerned about the increased, practically impossible, cost of doing business in this country as a niche producer.
The way the CPSIA is structured, we will be forced towards mass produced products from China. For those who believe American made products are a higher quality and/or safer than those made in China, this is disconcerting. For those who believe in supporting American manufacturing jobs, especially in this economic crisis, this law is downright untenable. For those who like to have product selection, and access to the very best, this law is deeply troubling. For all of the country, including us, who want to see the safest most innovative and interesting toys on the market, this law is an abysmal failure.
You have asked if the CPSC has quantitative data concerning any negative impact of the Act. I am currently working with a potentially good customer that is requiring full testing results on my organic cotton stuffed animals, despite being able to provide internationally recognized organic certificates. Despite the stay issued by the CPSC, and despite the CPSC practically exempting textiles, I may be forced to pay over $2,000 to certify what I already know; that these two organic cotton animals are free of lead and phthalates.
Based on the current interpretation of the law, which requires testing of the finished product, we are unable to import more painted products. We already pay a premium to purchase products that meet the highest standards on the market. As such, our volumes are relatively low, per product, but we serve an important role in the toy market. The economics are simple. Requiring additional testing to prove what we already know, will force us to drop these products. It is simply too expensive to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per product, for such testing. Without exemptions, or changes to allow component testing, or the use of certified compliant raw materials, we will no longer be able to import MOST of our products, despite being made with the finest raw materials available.
It is worthy to note that as the founder and administrator of the website www.cpsia-central.ning.com, I can tell you that I am not alone. On my site alone, there are over 675 members, many of whom are small business owners who are very concerned about losing ther business. Their comments, profiles, and heart wrenching stories are publicly available. I can assure you that there are many thousands more business owners that are not members of this website, but who are facing the same challenges and frustrations.
You have asked about suggestions to mitigate any such economic impact of the Act on small manufacturers of children’s products.
I recommend the following:
1. Focus solely on those items that have been scientifically proven to pose a risk to health, such as paint and jewelry, and remove all other items from this law.
2. Allow for the use of certified paint (or allow product manufacturers to certify their paint) and allow for such paint to be used without the need for testing on the level of the final product.
3. Remove the requirement to test for phthalates, but hold companies responsible for keeping phthalates out. Testing is both expensive AND unnecessary. Phthalates are an ingredient, not a contaminant. Manufacturers know if phthalates are added to the production. They shouldn't have to pay for testing to tell them what they already know.
4. Simplify the certification process. Can you imagine the paperwork required of a retailer that carries thousands of different product styles? I am overwhelmed with the thought of the administrative nightmare facing our small company, with hundreds of products. We have actually held off all purchasing until we can clarify what we need to do to have our paperwork in compliance. Excessive paperwork and tracking batches and lots, even when done electronically, does not further safety, nor does it help the economy.
5. Review and revise the legal framework of the CPSIA. By this, I mean that the abnormally high, punitive nature of the penalties serves nobody. This is made even more serious by the fact that a single over-zealous Attorney General in any state can interpret the law as he or she likes and bring suit against any company that they feel are in violation of any aspect of the CPSIA. The consumer database is likewise problematic, in that any consumer can file a public complaint, with little time for the manufacturer to retrieve the product and determine the cause of the defect. This database will be regularly scanned by lawyers looking for their next lawsuit.
We are a responsible company with an excellent track record. However, I do not like being put into the situation that one mistake by a supplier, or an employee, or even a customer, could jeopardize my livelihood and my life. Would you want to face the same penalties in the event that one of your interns made an administrative error, or gave out incorrect information? These provisions are spooking retailers into being so conservative that they are forcing additional testing even where the law itself does not require it; this means less business, and less economic activity, but the toys will be exactly the same---or not exist at all. I predict it will also lead to less reporting on the part of manufacturers to the CPSC, not more. That serves nobody. This is a very strong reason to exit the market altogether. Again, this serves nobody, especially those that appreciate our products.
6. Exempt the permanent labeling requirement for companies producing in small batches where such labeling is uneconomical, or make the permanent labeling requirement a voluntary provision.
I want to stress the necessity of the last point. With very few exceptions, due to the niche nature of most of our products, if we are forced to apply permanent labels to our products, those products will disappear from the market. We will be forced to go mass market, or close our business. It will be a sad day for natural products, and product safety when, and if that happens. I therefore urge you to allow exemptions for the permanent labeling or make this provision voluntary. Those companies that produce in such mass quantities that they would need labeling in order to find their products again know who they are.
Regarding your question about age appropriateness. The 12 year old age limit is clearly inappropriate. To be a health risk, lead must be ingested. Six, seven, eight year old children do not typically ingest things other than food, not to mention those that are twelve years old. Reducing the age limit would allow the CPSC to focus on the real risks--lead ingestion by children under 3 years old.
You asked about the impact on resellers of used products. Although we are not a reseller of second-hand products for children, I can tell you that we have seen many reports of children's products disappearing from thrift stores. I am concerned about this as a member of this society, as I believe these stores play an important role in serving the needs of those with lower incomes, as well as a critical way to keep products out of landfills. The CPSIA has essentially banned most children's products from these stores, and scared management into avoiding ALL children's products whether covered by the CPSIA or not. This is a most critical issue during this economic crisis, as parents have no other place to turn. The simple solution would be to reverse the decision on the application of the CPSIA to existing inventory. By doing so, thrift stores can know that their products are either grandfathered, or meet the new standard. Without this fix, this country will NEVER see children's products in thrift stores again. That would be shameful.
The impact on the environment, of applying the CPSIA to existing inventory, is very clear. Massive amounts of inventory are being disposed of across the country. These products cannot be exported, or given away. Exacerbating the impact on the landfills, is that among the products not meeting the new standards, are many products that do meet the new standards, but the cost to test the products outweigh their value.
Applying this law retroactively seems to me to be a very extreme and damaging measure. Given the dramatic impact that this is having on all parts of the childrens product industry, especially during such a dramatic economic crisis, to do so is cavalier, irresponsible, and unfair to those companies that have purchased products that met the standards of this country when they were purchased. There are many examples of older products that met previous standards being grandfathered, while new products are required to meet new standards. A look at how new standards are applied in the auto industry would provide ample examples of this.
Additionally, there are many examples of new regulations providing industry years (as opposed to months, and even hours, in the case of phthalates) to adjust to new standards. A friend of mine works in the health care industry and noted that they had 2 years to adjust their computer systems to deal with the new HIPAA regulations that were enacted a few years ago. They didn't have to deal with existing inventory or production, just the computer and workflow systems (which we also have to adjust too). It is clear from the chaos in the market that the issue of timing is more than theoretical. It is real, factual, and being documented each day in the news and on the blogs.
If one were to suggest that the risk is so severe and so imminent that we must truly put the entire children's product industry on the brink of bankruptcy, then the danger must be incredibly serious. If this is so, why are we letting children continue to play with toys that could contain phthalates, or let children ride their existing bicycles with lead in the air valves, or let children wear shoes that haven't been tested for lead? Why is it considered okay for my son to ride his bicycle, but illegal to sell it to the boy down the street? Perhaps the reason is because the risk is not as severe as the consumer groups have suggested? Perhaps the law, and its implementation, needs to be rethought.
In fact, in the case of lead, it is clear that the real danger of lead poisoning comes from old paint in old houses. It comes from our water and our pipes. If we are truly concerned about lead, would it not make sense to rip out old pipes and refurbish all the old houses in this country? That would be expensive, but not nearly as devastating as the CPSIA, and it would actually address a clear and present danger.
I applaud your request for answers, and your call for hearings. Our company has built its business on safe toys. We belief in product safety. We object to this law on the basis that it does NOT further product safety, in fact, it actually hinders it. By spreading the law so broad and making it so complex, it makes it difficult for the CPSC (and industry) to focus on the actual risks. It is very clear that a library book from 1976 carries with it a much different risk than a painted toy for a 2 year old. Let's focus on practical solutions to the potential risks, that will keep children safe, and let businesses stay in business.
I do believe that the CPSC needs to be given more discretion in implementing the CPSIA, but an act of Congress is urgently needed to resolve most, if not all of the issues addressed in this letter. We have already seen the CPSC challenged and lose in court. This will happen again and again. This serves no one. It takes away certainty from the market. If businesses cannot determine the rules they must play by, they cannot follow the rules. This is one of the problems businesses are facing right now. An act of Congress to clarify the rules, will avoid endless lawsuits and give the market some semblance of certainty.
Again, I want to thank you for your concern and the leadership you have shown by your letter to the CPSC. We are in desperate need of hearings. The fact that we have been twice denied hearings, at a time when our industry is burning is a black eye for our government and particularly those responsible for cancellations. It is a black eye for all those Congressmen that have not stood up and demanded hearings for their constituents. I am grateful to know that some people in government do read the papers, read their letters, and take the time to realize that strong small businesses, particularly in the children's products market, are essential to economic vitality, strong families, strong communities, strong schools, and a strong democracy. I trust that you will do all in your power to make sure that this law is reformed so that we can keep children's products safe while keeping our businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit strong.
Challenge & Fun, Inc.
Founder & Administrator CPSIA-Central.Ning.Com
Member Handmade Toy Alliance