One of the biggest problems in the firestorm over the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act has been a lack of clarity from regulators. (Again, this is the new law intended to reduce lead in children’s products that small producers say will put them out of business with costly testing, even on materials they say are unlikely to contain lead.) I had a brief talk with Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, yesterday. (He said he had something like 500 messages from reporters, so I appreciate him taking time to speak with me.) Here are a few points worth highlighting.

  • The CPSC expects to publish four proposed rules on implementing the law and exemptions in a matter of “days.” The notices about these rules are on the commission’s site.
  • Once the proposed rules are published, there’s a 30 day comment period. Then the commission staff, based on comments, drafts the final rule.
  • This won’t be done (because of the 30 day comment period) before the Feb. 10 deadline for testing lead levels, so businesses still need to comply with the required testing by then.
  • Any exemptions need to be based on evidence that the substances don’t contain prohibited levels of lead.

It seems a lot of the uncertainty surrounding this won’t be cleared up until those final rules are published.

Also this morning I spoke to Dr. James Roberts, associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, and an expert on lead. One thing he said was that recent research shows children being affected by low levels of lead that were previously thought to be not harmful. “There is no threshold effect of lead. Lead has no physiological function in the body. Any amount can start the process of damage,” he says.

Some notes from the comments on this thread. Ruth Kubierschky writes, in part, that

We handcrafters KNOW our products are safe, many or most of us buy our materials from retail sources. As one Etsy seller pointed out, she can go to a fabric store and buy materials and make a dress for her daughter. Why does the law make it illegal for her to make the exact same dress and sell it? It’s ridiculous.

On the other hand, Hilary says this:

One thing few of us ever mentions is that most of us have long produced goods without thought to real compliance with safety laws already in place. At best, many shop owners simply toss a disclaimer into the air “not intended for children under the age of three”

Now, all of a sudden, we are acutely aware of our levels of compliance. I think the biggest chunk of good that may come from this is the level of safety education and collaboration now available to the average consumer and small business owner. Unfortunately, a lot of the information is garbled as we try to interpret it.

Taking this as a lesson, on the micro business level we need outreach programs, not enforcement. We already care- just show us what exactly we need to be caring about.

A possible solution from Jennifer Taggart:

What makes the most sense is to target those components that often have lead, and require testing or certification for those components when used in children’s products and can result in an exposure (such as ingestion) - paint and coatings, crystals, polyvinyl chloride plastic (often stabilized with lead), zipper pulls, plastic buttons, metal buttons/closures, accessible snaps, decorative coatings (transfers, etc.) used on clothing, brass buckles, etc.

But since it looks like most of this won’t be cleared up before Feb. 10, what are people doing, business-wise, to prepare?

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