CPSIA Update - A Possible Glimmer of Hope for Small Businesses and Crafters Right Before Christmas?

9 years ago

Banning children's books from libraries, trombones from grade school bands, hand-whittled natural wooden trains, and hand-sewn quilts from little old ladies at church fairs: If that all sounds like some sort of Orwellian plot twist, no such luck. These are actual headlines that have appeared in 2009, in response to the CPSIA.

It's now been a year since I first wrote here about the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act, an absurd piece of legislation that was intended to make toys safer for children twelve and under, after months of recalls of lead-rich toys imported from China. Sounds reasonable at first glance. But instead what it has done is created testing certification standards for items that are so nonsensical, and so cost-prohibitive, that a $9 pair of of locally sourced organic cotton baby booties could cost upwards of $300 to test (thats uh, each pair, every time) while an 11 year-old's motorcross bike might be banned altogether. Just in case a child decides to disassemble the gear shaft, discover some brass bearings, and suck on them.

I am all for making our children safer. I've got two of them myself. But I've never entirely understood who Congress thought the law was actually protecting. Besides the major toy manufacturers, who will have less competition because only they can afford to test every Asian-imported rivet and grommet and v-chip. (Or, perhaps, just lobby their way out of third-party testing altogether.)

Jill Chuckas writes on behalf of the Handmade Toy Alliance, a group of small business owners that's been instrumental in offering thoughtful recommendations to Congress and the Consumer Products Safety Commission this year:

We believe in the intent of the law, but feel that the narrow wording (specifically the use of the word “any lead”, rather than “de minimis risk of lead”), eliminates the ability to utilize risk assessment in the implementation process.

Our member businesses only want the opportunity to continue crafting beautiful, safe products for children. It is as simple as that.

As a publisher of a website that recommends handmade toys and children's gifts, and as a consumer who likes to support the little guy and gal when I can, it's absolutely dismaying to read about the number of CPSIA casualties in the last year. Especially when so many of them are women just trying to support their families with lovingly made handmade items in a pretty crappy economy.

ETSY crafter Kim Payne describes a crumpled piece of paper posted in a photo on her blog:

I just found this paper. It's a list of ideas for my business, from the days when I made and sold toys; the days when I thought our government was by the people and for the people; the days when I thought that members of congress actually represented the voters who elected them. Days of blissful ignorance, before I found out about CPSIA.

So I promptly crumpled it into the condition you see here. If it can't be used for the ideas written on it, it might as well be used for therapy.

While Kim has rechanelled her amazing creativity into other projects, I find her story heartbreaking. A similar post comes from Tammy Bowles who runs Storyblox, one of the very first companies I ever featured on Cool Mom Picks.

The way the law reads right now, a company selling a perfectly safe toy – which complies with all lead, phthalates, small parts and flammability requirements – that has not labeled the toy correctly, or cannot provide a proper 3rd party testing certificate for that toy, can still be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars, at the whim of the CPSC. As a small business without the resources of a major corporation, we cannot afford the testing, or the risk of fines for not testing. As a disabled woman living on a meager income, I certainly cannot take this risk.

But hallelujah, just as the deadline for compliance was drawing near, a tiny beacon of hope has shone in the direction of small businesses: A one-year stay for certification of many toys and children's products. In other words, you still have to make safe products. You're still liable for huge fines if you don't. It's just that now, you have until February 2011 until you have to tap your entire life's savings to be able to prove it.

Here's to hoping the next thirteen months give members of Congress a chance to scrap the whole darn thing and start over. Or at minimum, lose some of the "We're doing it for the children!" grandstanding, and inject a lot more reasonable thinking in its place.

Or as Tammy says,

I hope that this is not the end for us. Hopefully, in a year or two, common sense will win out, and the law will be amended so that it actually protects our children, while encouraging, rather than destroying, small businesses like ours that have been producing safe products from the get-go. If and when that happens, hopefully I will be in a place where I can re-open the business.

I am rooting for her.


For more information on the CPSIA check out:

CPSIA-Central Ning group

Handmade Toy Alliance

The Smart Mama Blog

Kathleen Fasinella's Fashion-Incubator

Rick Woldenberg's Learning Resources Blog

ETSY forums (search CPSIA)

Cool Mom Picks' Save Handmade Resource Page


Liz Gumbinner is a contributing editor to BlogHer, the publisher/editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Picks and is the author of Mom-101, which she has yet to prove is not harmful to children. It probably is.

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