The Scoop on CPSIA

Like many of you, I'm a big fan of supporting creative small business owners, such as those found on Etsy and elsewhere on the web.  The "cottage industry" environment fostered by the web inspires me, especially as I see creative women (many of them moms) making brilliant, artistic items in their home, and giving me–the consumer–a chance to buy something special and handmade.

So it's been with increasing alarm that I've followed the story around CPSIA.  (Never heard of it? Bear with me just a minute.)  This is a law that goes into effect in only a few short weeks, and it has the potential to greatly inhibit the productivity of crafty small business owners that make products for children. 

I do not own a business making children's items, so my knowledge on the subject has been fairly limited.  But I wanted to understand it better–and to be able to tell you about it–so I decided to ask for some help.  My real-life friend Heather is the owner of Blessed Nest, a small but growing company that makes organic nursing pillows.  This law has thrust Heather into the position of reluctant activist, as she's had to discern what this law means for her company (newspaper columnist Susanne Tobias even interviewed Heather on the subject here).  

Thankfully, Heather agreed to sit down and answer a few questions, and you may be surprised to learn just how far-reaching this new law is.  Heather's answers to my questions are in italics, below:

What exactly is CPSIA?

CPSIA stands for Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The way it was summarized for the U.S. Senate vote was: “A bill to establish consumer product safety standards and other safety requirements for children's products and to reauthorize and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

Terrific, it’s about time, read no further… right?  Well, it’s sort of their jobs to read the whole thing and think about it before they “yea” or “nay”.  See how your favorite Senator voted here and Congressman/woman here.

How will it affect Etsy shop owners and other small crafty businesses?

According to the actual scope and wording of this bill (H.R.4040), as of Feb. 10, 2009, all products made and/or marketed to children under the age of 12 will have to comply with mandatory lead and phthalates testing for each component of each product they sell or face felony charges and hefty fines. Tests have to be conducted by labs that have been approved by the Commission, and range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars. (For one small business’s estimate based on actual quotes from approved labs, see Happy Panda’s blog). Even if you use the same materials for the 30 different things that you sell, every component of all 30 have to be individually tested, regardless of whether those materials have passed testing by other agencies or other manufacturers. For example, we use Harmony Art fabrics, which conform to the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) . Even if we had them tested by the lower standards of the CPSIA for our pillows, a mom who sells hand-made slings out of the very same fabrics would have to have her products tested as well.

In a nutshell, if you knit booties (or sew burp cloths, or make bibs, or create hair bows) and sell them on Etsy (or at your church craft fair or to your neighbor down the street) you will be required to have each size and style of each item you sell tested, even if they are made from the same material. Let's say, for example, you knit booties and sell them. Even though yarn is not known to inherently contain lead or phthalates, and even if your yarn has been certified organic by GOTS standards, which exceed CPSIA standards by more than 300%, your yarn would have to be tested.  And if you opt to have the testing done, next time you get the same yarn from the same manufacturer in a different dye lot, everything has to be re-tested.

There are some less expensive tests available through “unapproved” sources, but they will only be good until August, 2009.  So, it either means that if you sell without certification you are breaking the law or that you better have a rich uncle.

Will any other businesses be affected?  What about consignment stores and/or eBay?

The law applies to all products, even used items. This means that unless the stores (including eBay sellers and private parties) do the testing themselves, on Feb. 11 all of those products are to be treated as hazardous waste and destroyed. In a vague memo issued this week by the CPSA “resellers” may be excluded from certification, but these proposals also say that businesses owners will still face the same penalties if an item they sold ends up containing lead. It not only omits a specific definition of what a “reseller” is, it also fails to explain whether it applies to their entire inventory or just used items. So it exposes the store owner to the risk of either being shut down because of an item that may or may not have actually been purchased from them, but also to the nuts that could sue them if they claimed they were injured by the product. (Ouch, McDonald’s… I spilled my coffee!)  It also is a very effective tool for competitors to use against businesses who they know can’t comply, a practice that has already been used by some of the big guys.

Something else to consider is that Canada is apparently watching to see what happens with this legislation, as they structure their own policies for safety standards. Many other countries could follow suit, making handmade children’s products a thing of the past, globally!

How will it affect consumers?

If the only products on the market are those made by companies who can afford to comply with the CPSIA rules (especially on such short notice), consumers will have very few options. Taking away handmade and even used items will create a market that is little more than mass-produced, mostly foreign-made children’s products. It also sets a precedent which allows one government agency to determine what is in the best interest of “public safety”, without having to take other factors into account.

One other big issue is that the jury is still out whether books, including text books and library books will be exempt. If the law isn’t changed, libraries will have two options: “Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves, or they ban children from the library.”  (according to Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association.

To play devil’s advocate for a minute, I suspect that advocates of this law support it in the interest of keeping kids safe.  What’s your response to that?

The irony is that most of the people who will be hurt by this are those of us who have been trying to get the government to pass safety laws all along. We all want our kids to be safe, and in fact many of our businesses were started as a way of being proactive in providing safe alternatives to the mass-produced, unregulated products on the market now. I doubt that many people want this law to be vetoed altogether, just for it to be reasonable. We want it to focus on areas where it will do the most good without forcing everyone else to break the law or live in fear of being shut down and hauled off to prison. There are many intelligent recommendations that have been made that would not only protect children but also would allow small businesses to operate and let parents make informed choices for what they buy.

Is it inevitable? Can something be changed?  If so, what?

Well, not to sound too dramatic… but I believe that inevitability is the enemy of liberty. Without going into too much detail here (feel free to read my soapbox letter here), I think that this is much deeper than whether I can call my pillows “nursing pillows” or not. Fortunately, this is still America, and our voices do matter. This bill was pushed through under the radar at an unusually fast pace, but our representatives are still responsible for representing us. You can join the efforts of the Handmade Toy Alliance here, sign a petition here, and vote to bring this issue before the President-Elect on Inauguration Day here.

Once you get into this it can become very emotional, confusing and overwhelming, especially if you are a small business trying to make ends meet (insert raised hand here).  We have made a page on our blog where we are trying to stream-line the most up-to-date information, links, articles and support that we find. We’re also looking into the technology to put a hug on it, but that could be years off and would be regulated anyway.  In the meantime, at least we know we’re all in it together!

I expect that many of you are very knowledgeable about this issue as well.  If you know of additional resources, please leave them in the comments section below.  In addition to contacting your congressional representatives, you might consider alerting local, state or even national media to this story that will affect so many hard-working women.

70 thoughts on “The Scoop on CPSIA

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for bringing us real-time information on this serious issue. I will see what I can do to pass on the information to the people I have gotten to know during the past election cycle. Wow.

  2. Just Pure Lovely says:

    Thanks for bringing this to light. I have to admit, the first several times (okay, dozen) I heard of CPSIA I was like, yaaawn, another law thingie. Booooring!
    But now that I’ve paid a bit of attention, I think everyone should pay attention.
    Let’s get ’em! I’m in!

  3. Amber @ BGH says:

    Another thought: They also just killed yard sales and garage sales, didn’t they. Like I said on Twitter, I’m sure this began with good intentions..but I don’t think they thought this through all the way. And the timing? STINKS.

  4. Phoebe @ Cents to Get Debt Free says:

    Exactly, Lora Lynn. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I’ve been shopping thrift/consignment stores a ton lately.
    And, my concern is, with all the cost of additional testing (even for the bigger companies) not only are we not going to have quality handmade stuff, but the prices are going to be out of this world for the mass produced stuff.
    I really hope and pray that when the day comes, soemthing ends up getting changed so it isn’t this bad. I mean, wow!

  5. Heather says:

    There have been some changes and clarifications because of the outcry (some info can be found here: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09086.htmland here: http://familyclassroom.net/BookBan0210.html) but at this point, though the law no longer affects sellers of used articles (though they are NOT allowed to resell anything that has been recalled–which means keeping up to date with THAT mess) it still affects those who MAKE new items, and is still a problem.

  6. megan@Hold it Up to the Light says:

    The impact of this “law” is just mind-blowing!!! I mean, really!!!
    Do they SERIOUSLY want us to burn all of our used kids clothes instead of selling them on eBay? What about the thrift stores and charities…how will this affect them?
    It is just absolutely INSANE in my opinion. Insane!!!

  7. AmberStar says:

    Oh man…I guess my plans for knitting caps and blankets for children at the charity hospital here are down the drain. If the babies don’t have clothes they wrap them in newspapers to go home. Somehow I think my yarn is better than newspaper ink on their little bodies.
    I had been hearing about this and thought you had posted about it before, but must have been someone else. It has been on the news, but I hadn’t paid much attention since my kids are grown.

  8. Kori says:

    I am so glad you wrote this!!! I was like everyone else and didn’t realize just how far it was going to go!!! I know we all want SAFE products for our children but there has to be another way to handle it. I really don’t see why single items I buy at a fabric store are lead free would have to be tested if I choose to sell them. If those items are already certified as lead free then how is my sewing them together going to possibly add lead to them???? It makes you wonder if our elected officials actually read what they voted on!!!

  9. mamatoo says:

    Also what is not mentioned is, under this new law you would not be able to DONATE used items or GIVE hand made gifts to anyone that hasn’t been tested. Hurting non profits as well.
    And as a book seller, as far as it’s understood at our level, it does affect book sellers – although, of course, still vague.

  10. Holly Jahangiri says:

    Excellent interview! I have been blogging about this for about a week, now (see http://hollyjahangiri.blogspot.com/search?q=cpsia ). Today, I posted a survey to find out the impact this would have on individuals, families, and small businesses. So far, only a handful of people have filled it out, but their stories brought tears to my eyes.
    You can fill it out, too, at http://hollyjahangiri.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-does-cpsia-affect-you-or-your.html – we all need to be heard. I plan to share these stories with anyone who is interested, so while you CAN fill it out anonymously (with a valid email address), it will likely have more impact if you put your name on it.
    There may be a small glimmer of hope for books, and I posted about this on my blog, as well: http://hollyjahangiri.blogspot.com/2009/01/new-hope.html
    Thank you for spreading the word on this disastrous law!

  11. Krista says:

    I just wrote a post on this myself the other day. It’s so crazy outrageous that they’re basically throwing the baby out with the bathwater! I did read that in the most recent publication by the CSPC that wood, cotton, wool, and a few other things will be exempt. Many of our handmade items are made with only those items so perhaps that will help? And maybe the CSPC is starting to realize that changes will have to be made?
    Here’s hoping!

  12. Heather says:

    The danger with these statements from the CPSIA is that they are so vague that it makes me wonder if they have any idea how to respond. Sort of “we’ll see when your dad gets home” as an answer. (the term “natural” is interpreted in some industries as having no dye, paint or printing… and in some as totally undefined. ie: 7-up can say it has “all natural ingredients” even though high fructose corn syrup is not natural by most reasonable standards)
    Only Congress can re-write this, the CPSIA can only respond to how they will enforce what’s written. We need to focus on Congress, and making our Representatives accountable to us. (it could also be vetoed by the President, but to throw it out altogether could make setting real safety standards difficult later) I’d love to see at least a postponement, to allow more time for the public and businesses to respond (and for Congress to actually read the bill!).

  13. Lisa @ Stop and Smell the Chocolates says:

    This is just insane! I think it shows how out-of-touch some of these people are – that these issues didn’t occur to them before now.
    I am relieved to see now that used items are OK – didn’t know where I was going to get my son’s clothes! But I am still upset about handmade items and pray that the outcry will get the necessary changes made.
    Thank you so much for sharing such an informative article!

  14. Cynthia Broockman says:

    Thanks so much for helping to spread the word about this poorly written, wide ranging law.
    We kid’s resale, consignment and thrifts are also affected (although the recent ‘Press Release’ from CPSC changed nothing – except to suggest we change careers and become bootleggers). We are on the same page with the Handmade Toy Alliance on this. Please take a minute and click! once or twice to automatically send a letter to Congress at http://www.savekidsresale, learn more about this stupid law. BETTER YET CALL THE CPSC AND YOUR REPRESENTATIVES! No one actually does that much. CLOG UP THEIR PHONE LINES!
    IT ALSO AFFECTS KID’S SCHOOL LIBRARIES AND PUBLIC LIBRARIES!
    Again, thanks so much for your help.

  15. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for publicizing this! May I also suggest visiting the War Room for up to the minute updates and focused activism? http://bit.ly/3SFN. There’s also the automated mailer to email legislators in one fell swoop. http://tinyurl.com/5hloos. Lastly, we are asking people to fill out the Economic Impact Survey http://bit.ly/Cdwv. The latter link also includes every CPSIA entry published on Fashion-Incubator.com. Btw, it was members of fashion-incubator who were instrumental in getting this out in the community as long ago as August but it’s been long forgotten by now. Not that it matters but the entries on the blog and the forum contain a lot of pivotal information as to what this means for producers and we remain at the forefront (albeit behind the scenes) of this effort.

  16. Nicole Rodriguez says:

    The CPSIA is already law. It was signed into law in August. For those who care, Clinton, Obama, and McCain all abstained from voting on this. And writing to your Congressmen? Yeah, did that. Got back two form letters so far, one bragging about being a co-sponsor of this ridiculous bill, and another thanking me for my support of more funding for the CPSC. But I’m free to write to them again anytime I have a concern about something. Uh huh. Thanks.
    Let’s think about this for a second. This law was passed because of China’s failings. Do you think Congress could afford to single China out when writing this law? We borrow WAY too money from China to upset them.
    And those big manufacturers, the ones manufacturing outside the US? Do you think they would just sit idly and let US-based manufacturers be exempt from this law? They can more than afford these ridiculous tests, and it effectively puts the smaller markets out of business. Pretty neat for them, huh?
    See, it can always be traced back to money.

  17. prasti says:

    thanks for your attention on this matter! the most important thing you can do is write to your legislators and to the CPSIA. you can use the sample letter from the hand made toy alliance <a href="http://sites.google.com/site/handmadetoyalliance/how-you-can-help"here (which is what i ended up doing).
    also a friend of mine just posted this update from the cpsc: <a href="http://oursuburbanhomestead.blogspot.com/2009/01/cpsc-update-glimmer-of-hope-for.html"cpsc update & a glimmer of hope for handmade. there is some hope, and as long as we spread awareness changes may be on the horizon.

  18. Tara says:

    Here’s a question and maybe you can help me find the answer. Will imports be forced to the same standards???? In other words, will we finally be safe from lead in the Chinese products that are imported or will our government make impossible for Americans to make things, pushing the imports to dominate our horizon and not hold them to the same standards?????

  19. ruth ann says:

    From the CPSC website:
    “Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.
    The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.”

    This calmed my fears a bit about the whole consignment/resale side of this issue. But not entirely – the thought that resellers could face civil and/or criminal penalties for selling a toy that contains lead?! Seems more than a bit extreme to me!!

  20. Lori L. says:

    Shannon, thank you so much for bringing this issue to light. I am very much aware of this impending piece of legislature, and if it passes in its original form, then my business will be no longer.
    I am a WAHM like most etsy sellers, and my product has been endorsed and approved by my local Children’s Hospital. My product is also being piloted in public school systems. My mission? To educate and empower kids to make healthy food choices.
    All my hard work, years of research, the intense grassroots effort I have strived so hard to make work for this cause… all will go under because my product contains too many components for me to afford the testing.
    Now, this is a heartbreak that not only affects my family, but the ingenuity of moms working to further the well being of our children, and it is such a shame.
    PLEASE, everyone, do what you can to contact your local reps to stop or ammend this legislation. And thanks again, Shannon.

  21. stephanie says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful, timely post! I love the Q&A format and appreciate how you present the facts without getting overly emotional. This is a great resource!

  22. Anissa@hope4peyton says:

    A friend who is into making organic babywearing items is trying to figure out what this will mean for her business as well. She is wondering if there is a loophole in the system…her plan is to market straight to the parents with “kits” for her babywearing item, so they are purchasing a kit and it can come “assembled or unassembled” for no extra cost. I don’t know, I’d sure hate for her to get a massive fine.

  23. Carrie says:

    This law sounds absolutely ridiculous and impractical. I understand wanting my child to be safe, but this is just silly. The manufacturers of the fabric & yarn & other raw materials should be held accountable for their products, and regulated at those levels, not those who use the products.

  24. deb meyers says:

    I am also sending letters THANKING the 3 (ONLY 3?!) senators who voted against this legislation.
    Coburn (R-OK)
    DeMint (R-SC)
    Kyl (R-AZ)
    If you are using http://savekidsresale.squarespace.com
    to send an email to your congresspersons, be careful, do not chide someone newly elected in Nov. 08 who was not present for the original vote!

  25. Terina says:

    i already voted for it to be brought up to pres. obama. while i don’t make anything i LOVE etsy and would be heartbroken if i couldn’t buy handmade toys and clothes for my kids. it also makes me angry. i wish these politicians would get their heads out of the rear ends and see what they are really doing to us.

  26. Heather says:

    You are so right, Mark. Thank you. That is what I meant to type… getting a little bleary-eyed. It is so important that we keep every detail in check since the truth is stranger than the conspiracies at this point!

  27. Cathe says:

    I had two representatives from my congressman’s office return my call – one locally and one in Washington. Neither was well-informed, but they both said it’s a high priority for our congressman and getting lots of attention. I believe they listened to me.
    I hope everyone understands that the “clarification” saying that resellers and thrift stores are exempt is nothing more than an opinion. The law still stands unchanged. You can check the National Association of Resellers and Thrift Stores website – http://www.narts.org/CPSIA_Info.htm
    The CPSC statement is addressed near the bottom of the page.

  28. Natalie @ I AM (not) says:

    Let’s see, I’m 35 and I don’t think any of the toys I had have made me sick. Nope, feeling pretty good. Guess that Cabbage Patch Kid from 1985 was okay.
    sheesh, really? This is how it’s going to be? What’s next? They going to try to outlaw trampolines because they’re dangerous? Of course they’re dangerous! You purposefully bouncing your body in the air, four feet above ground! If I don’t want my kids jumping….I be sure NOT to buy one, thankyouverymuch.
    I understand being safe and guarding against things that really could hurt us, but really, this will cut out the American Dream.

  29. Ladybug Limited says:

    Thank you for posting this to get the word out, Shannon, as so many still are unaware! I’ve been posting this on my 3 blogs (along with Cool Mom Picks’ Save Handmade button) as I’m not ready to give up on my Etsy shop of hair accessories! Heather hit all the major points and other readers have already pointed out some great resources. I would like to add that Jennifer, aka The Smart Mama, has fabulous accurate information as well. She posted a CPSIA FAQ yesterday:
    http://www.thesmartmama.com/bg/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

  30. Loretta says:

    I’ve been surprised this hasn’t been getting more news attention with all that it could potentially do to small businesses. It makes me ill to think about it.
    I don’t sell childrens toys or items, but I sure as heck BUY them!
    I’ve been sending emails and called a few places to see if they would cover the wahm side of this and get some more attention to it. So far the response is little and most of the media and government seem minimally informed about it.
    I guess with the big president change coming up this month they have more important things to talk about. They keep talking about how bad the economy is …. sorry to inform them that this is going to make it worse, much worse.
    I can’t even imagine the families that are going to fall below the poverty line when this comes out. Tables and refrigerators that are going to be empty. This is so huge and our government is blind not to realize that.

  31. Emily says:

    Thank you for bringing this to the attention to your readers. I’ve blogged about it, but my readership is quite low. And the biggest problem we have in working for this law’s amendment is just getting the word out. So many people don’t even know it is happening, or if they’ve heard of it they think it is too insane to be true. So thank you for your assistance!
    Emily
    Owner, Lullaby Slings

  32. Ranee says:

    Resellers are not protected by the recent announcement. They are still liable if a product they sell is found to contain lead. This is not merely a fine, either. It is a felony with a sentence of 2-5 years in prison on the table.

  33. Beth Moore says:

    So glad you are bringing more awareness to this ridiculous and tragic misuse of legislation.
    I too have written congressmen to no avail.
    My prayer is that if we all get angry enough, then someone who can make a difference with listen.

  34. Heather Flottmann says:

    I am a wahm, a small business owner, designer and seamstress of made to order clothing for children. My livelihood, and the livelihood of every cottage-industry entrepreneur like me, is threatened with extinction when HR4040/ the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act or CPSIA goes into effect on February 10, 2009.
    Make no mistake, CPSIA was necessary in principle and has noble intentions, keeping our children safe and holding companies accountable for importing toxic toys. Unfortunately this legislation lacks common sense, is ambiguous and fails to take into account micro manufacturers and the handmade industry. Unit testing will be required on all finished products, regardless if the components are natural materials, the manufacturing process could in no way introduce lead into the equation, or if you have documentation from vendors stating that the components are certified lead-free.
    The required 3rd party lab unit testing is extremely cost prohibitive. My made-to-order articles of childrens clothing are 100% cotton and inherently lead. XRF testing provides the necessary proof that quantities of lead are well within the CPSIA standards and offers a cost that is affordable to small businesses. XRF testing will provide a General Certificate of Conformity which is required as of 2/10/09. Unfortunately it will not be sufficient after Aug 2009.
    All items will then need to be unit tested by a certified government lab. The cost quotes given to test in the manner laid out in the law will range from $500-$1500 per style depending on the number of substrates with the lowest price I could find being $75 a substrate. All this just to show the same documentation as the XRF scanning as well as the documentation provided by my vendors showing that the components have already also been tested and meet lead guidelines. The redundancy of the testing is unnecessary as allowing component testing and XRF will ensure safe products.
    Without that allowance my company will go out of business. NOT because of the economy, but solely because of CPSIA. Small micro manufacturers such as myself have no way of absorbing the price. There is no economic recovery from it.
    According to the 2002 Economic Census (the last survey of its type), small U.S. clothing manufacturers (with fewer than 20 employees) contribute over $900 million dollars [consider: nearly $1 billion dollars] annually to the economy and comprise 68% of total apparel manufacturing in the U.S. This is clearly a vital and contributing asset to our economy. Multiply this fallout exponentially when you take into account the myriad other manufacturers, retailers and businesses that (manufacturer of sell items intended for children under the age of 12) will be hurt or ultimately driven out of business.

  35. Heather Flottmann says:

    I just re-read my previous post and noticed an ommission that I would like to correct.
    “My made-to-order articles of childrens clothing are 100% cotton and inherently lead FREE.” They are LEAD FREE not inherently lead. See what the CPSIA has done?!? Turned my brain to lead!

  36. Jessica says:

    Thank you for talking about this. My husband’s cousin’s husband makes wooden trains, cars and trucks. Every piece of every toy will have to be tested under this new piece of legislation. That will get very expensive and he won’t be able to support his family with his toy-making anymore.
    I wrote my government officials in December and have heard back from 2 of the 3 that I wrote. One reply was from one of my senators and it was a sad reply. So, my next letter was a little more forceful, direct and I included the items that CoolMomPicks included in her site.
    I just hope that we can make a difference with the letters, calls, and emails that we send. I’m praying that our government officials will keep the American citizens in mind when implementing this new law.
    Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  37. Lori says:

    Thanks for this informative post. I often buy used clothes for my girls and haven’t understood what is going on. I’m going to post a link to this on my blog if it’s ok with you. Thanks!

  38. D says:

    Oh please. The feds won’t be raiding craft shows. Just use each of your homemade products yourself and sell them. Technically, they’re then “used” since you used them. Then you get right through the loophole.
    If you product does break the law with lead, etc, then you will be in trouble. However, if you’re sure it doesn’t have lead – then you’re fine.

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