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CPSIA 2008 Status, March, 2010: 
Toy Safety, Politics, and Unintended Consequences

See original article on CPSIA:
2010 Ed Loewenton 
Original article in this series: Toxic Chinese Toys (Aug. 15, 2007)  
How to inspect toys for safety  (March, 2008)

      In August, 2008, Congress enacted into law the CPSIA 2008 (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008).  It mandated radical reductions in permitted levels of lead and phthalates in toys and other children's product, to be phased in over two years.  The consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) was tasked with construction of a regulatory framework to enforce the new law, which effectively bans the use of lead and phthalates in children's products.  
     One of the notable aspects of the law is the requirement for third-party testing of every batch of every product, and of each component of each product in the case of complex constructions such as bicycles. Each product is supposed to have a permanent label identifying manufacturer and batch date. Read more at
     The CPSIA 2008 was enacted in response to the deluge of reports, during 2007, of dangerously toxic toys and other products imported from China.  Read more...  

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     It soon became clear that the testing requirements of the law would have a devastating economic impact on smaller toy producers because of the costs associated with testing and labeling. Since there are so few testing laboratories accredited under the new law, there might be a long wait for testing, and test service will be a seller's market, with the possibility of price gouging.   
     Larger or mid-size American manufacturers, with existing test lab contracts or relationships (such as our suppliers Lindenwood (alphabet blocks), Guillows (balsa planes), Little Colorado (furniture), and Maple Landmark (Trains, puzzles) benefit from volume pricing.  Nonetheless, the costs would be considerable, and in fact is motivating them to reduce the size of their catalogs. 
     Since most American toy makers who actually manufacture in the U.S. are much smaller businesses, they are not really able to sustain such expenses, and are faced with going out of business. 
   Someone calculated that if the law were in force today, there would be an annual requirement of tens of millions of individual tests. Obviously, this is not only economically ruinous, but also logistically impossible. 
    Since late 2008, much has happened politically regarding the CPSIA 2008.  There has been intensive lobbying by the affected parties, from the large, well-financed importers of (mostly) Chinese toys, to tiny one-person home-based handcrafted toy businesses. One result has been that the testing and labeling requirements have been postponed twice, and are now scheduled to be enforceable beginning February, 2011.   
    Some progress has made in persuading the CPSC to allow common-sense exemptions of minimally processed natural materials such as wood, wool, cotton, and paper. And there is the awareness that most toy toxicity hazards have been found in imported toys, virtually none in those made in the U.S. Further, a discussion has been opened regarding the CPSIA's age limits - the act regulates products used by kids up to 12 years - which are seen as excessively cautious. 
     However, there are also efforts to sneak in exemptions which I would regard as ill-advised.  The association which represents vending machine businesses want to get the little beads used in cheap vending-machine jewelry exempted, because the beads are so small. And yet this very kind of product has already been involved in recalls. 
   What we have here is certainly a case of unintelligent and uninformed legislation as a reaction to a wave of public hysteria in 2007.  I certainly do believe that lead should be eliminated from children's products, and that phtalates, a much less acutely toxic material found in PVC, or Vinyl plastics, should not be used in products for children under 12 months, or perhaps 36 months.  But testing of the end product is not looking like the best way to achieve these aims. For one thing, much or most of the toxins that will affect the child trhoughout its lifespan probably make their appearance through ingestion by pregnant women, so controlling them in toys is only one part of the effort.
     Meanwhile, only a few companies are testing.  Ironically, toys coming from China are mostly being tested since, after the scandals of 2007,  the Chinese government promptly required it, and also closed many small businesses with sloppy manufacturing processes. As I mentioned, some larger U.S.-based producers are testing, because they have always done so.  
    And hazards originating in American-made products are not unknown. Recently, the New York Times reported that the largest U.S. producer of tomato products has been accused of producing dangerously contaminated products, and bribing buyers to ignore the problems
www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/business/25tomatoes.html .

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      The ironic result of this law is that the variety of some of the best children's products is already sharply reduced. Habermaass, the German company which make the Haba block sets and puzzles we carry, has eliminated over one thousand products from their Haba-USA catalog this year, even though they have always actively tested under European regulations and make some of the best and safest toys.  Everybody' favorite Kettler pedal go-cart models will no longer be available in the United States, because even though they are laboratory certified for the very strict European Union regulations, they would still have to be tested again under the new CPSIA law, and this would make them too expensive to sell here. 
     The final irony is that, with full implementation of CPSIA as originally written, many of the wholesome, high quality toys and kids' products made by the smallest American producers will disappear from the market. Many may even now be hard to find on store shelves, since some retailers are taking it upon themselves to enforce the requirements that the CPSC has put on hold ofr another year.
     So we are still waiting for enforcement of the reduced lead requirements.  In the meantime, parents and others who are responsible for children's welfare can take some easy steps to reduce risk from the substances regulated by CPSIA 2008, as well as other kinds of hazards that may be present.  Read my article on this at 
     You can also adopt a more educated and reasoned response to the hazards of lead and phthalates. Lead is an acute poison, and a developmental toxin for children at any level of concentration.  
Read more at  www.turnertoys.com/pvc3Stabilizers.htm 
     There is no excuse for exposing children to lead. Yet I and my peers grew up, in the '40's, '50's, and '60's, in a lead-saturated environment, with little apparent harm.  
     The danger presented by phthalates is much less obvious. Whereas lead has largely been eliminated from the environment in recent decades, the prevalence of phthalates has just increased. These chemicals can be found in everyone's bloodstream. There has been no clearly linked epidemic of consequences. Phthalates are anti-androgenic, and known to disrupt male reproductive system devlopment in experimental rodents.  There are no comparable direct findings in humans, although there have been some inconclusive preliminary findings regarding cognitive development and behavior.
     Your children will be safe and grow up healthy if you just keep potential sources of lead out of their daily environment until they are old enough to learn how to use such materials safely when absolutely necessary. Phthalates are a much lesser danger; keeping potential sources out of their hands up to age 3, and teaching them to reduce ingestion through smart product choice, should provide a wide marging of safety. 
       Even more important, pregnant women should avoid exposure to these substances.  Less-expensive commercial cosmetics, shampoos, Vinyl fabrics (that "new" smell), wrappers on packaged cheese and meat, all contain phthalates. 

     If you have the time and inclination, you might also want to learn more about the new CPSC regulations, and perhaps even submit a comment during the comment review process. You can also read the small, made-in-USA toymakers' and independent retailers' side of this issue at http://groups.google.com/group/handmade-toys/topics 
You may need to guest-register to read it.

Publicly Available Consumer Complaint Database
Comment deadline July 23, 2010

Testing Rules for Component Parts --
Comment deadline August 3, 2010

Testing and Labeling Pertaining to Product Certification (15 Month Rule)
Comment deadline August 3, 2010

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