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February 2009 | Vol. VIII - No. 2
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Stay on Tests Provides No Rest

Industry Struggles With CPSIA Despite Time-Saver Ruling


February 5, 2009 — The Consumer Product Safety Commission's one-year stay of testing and certification requirements under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act has received largely disgruntled reactions from the toy industry for being a slightly positive — but not really that helpful — move by the Commission.

Although the timetable gives toymakers some relief from expensive, mandatory testing, all retailers of children's products have essentially now been placed in the same situation as thrift stores. They bear the burden of judging which products might fail to meet the new standards for lead or phthalates, effective Feb. 10, without the backing of testing but with the possibility of civil penalties for non-compliance.

That's the comparison made in a press release issued by Rob Wilson, vice president of Challenge & Fun and founder of CPSIA-Central, an online community formed for industry professionals to discuss the tenets of the new law and jointly lobby for desired amendments.

CERTIFIED COMPLIANCE

"While we will not have to follow the complex certification rules for now,” he added, “we know that our retailers will demand general certificates from us, which we will gladly provide.”

The necessity of Certificates of Compliance — or at least comparable safety statements that speak to a product's right in the marketplace — hasn't disappeared with the stay that eliminates the requirement for them, with some exceptions.

"I'm continuing to ask for them the same way that I was," Owner Terri Bracken of Earth Explorer Toys in Zionsville, Ind., told TDmonthly Magazine in early February. When asked whether she will accept products without verifiable COCs, she said it depends on the item.

"It it was kids' jewelry and [the manufacturer] had not responded or given us anything, I wouldn't buy it," she said, owing to the higher probability of lead in jewelry. A card game, though, might be worth chancing.

Anthony Johnson, owner of Alphabet Soup in Ithaca, N.Y., indicated he's likely to take manufacturers at their word, as long as they believe their items are safe and issue a statement to that effect.

"I am not a scientist and do not have the capabilities or resources to analyze the data itself," he explained.

Johnson further pointed to a central frustration also voiced by the Toy Industry Association: "How else do you know if it meets the standard unless you test it?"

PINING FOR MORE DELAYS

The solution, says TIA, is to defer not only the testing and certification for the requirements but also the requirements themselves. That was the focus of a petition put forth by 67 industry groups on Jan. 28, calling the levels for lead content "a practical impossibility for thousands of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and resellers on February 10, 2009."

The request also pointed out to potential economic fallout when retailers are forced to destroy or return to the manufacturer old product on their shelves that they can't be sure meets the standards. While many independent retailers seem mildly comfortable with the idea of determining whether their existing inventory is likely to be compliant, some have received notice of products that are not.

"We got a letter from one of our vendors saying that they had a couple of items that would not pass the new standards," reported Bracken. The product in question? A plush purse with inner lining not visible from any part of the product that would have to be ripped open and tested — an item she disposed of per the company's instructions.

Despite these and other concerns, the CPSC has maintained it is up to Congress, not them, to make a change as bold as pushing back the deadline for complying with new regulations. Nonetheless, the National Association of Manufacturers CPSC Coalition issued a second, similar petition on Feb. 3, aiming to extend the deadline for meeting lead content requirements.

THE RIGHT CHANGES?

With all the back and forth between industry groups and the CPSC right now, one has to wonder about the effectiveness behind the legalese. Is the law going to accomplish that for which it was developed?

Malcolm Denniss, toy safety expert for SGS Group and former senior vice president of quality assurance with Hasbro, pointed out that enacting tighter lead limits in answer to failures to meet existing lead standards in 2006 and 2007 doesn’t necessarily ensure compliance with any regulation, old or new.

“I think it would've been more useful to companies and to the issue if they concentrated their timeline on how to manage an ongoing assurance of compliance and delayed some of the implementation,” he told TDmonthly.

Infinitoy has been fortunate to not have to change its testing methods to be in line with the CPSIA, but CEO Jeff Pinsker does have concern about the law’s concentration.

“The most dangerous aspect of toy safety for children is choking hazards,” he told TDmonthly. “I'm nervous that all of this focus on lead paint and phthalates is going to take parents’ eyes off the ball and make them miss small parts.”

See TDmonthly’s section on lead and toy safety for additional coverage of the CPSIA. Access manufacturers’ safety statements in the CPSIA COC Reference Section.



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Julie L. JonesWriter's Bio: Julie L. Jones has written articles for both newspapers and magazines. Before joining the staff of TDmonthly Magazine, she worked as a communications writer and provided editorial support for a market research company. Read more articles by this author

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