Leaving the Lead Out / New consumer safety law protects children, but could hurt many businesses
Stay-at-home entrepreneur and new mom Ashley Barrett makes reusable diapers and baby leggings that range from stately argyle to shocking pink.
At about $5 a pop, selling those items on the Internet supplements her income while her husband attends Weber State University and works full time.
Barrett is about to become a criminal or be put out of business when a new federal law takes effect next month.
Her Web site, www.monkeybunns.com, and millions of microproducers like her are getting pinched by a new requirement that each product intended for children must be tested for lead content prior to sale.
"The testing is going to be anywhere from $75 to $300 per color, per thing on it. A onesie -- the collar is a different fabric than the main part -- and each snap also needs to be tested," Barrett said.
"It's a chemical test, so the item is destroyed in the process, so it's really hard for businesses that make one-of-a-kind items, which I make a lot of."
This catastrophe for microproducers is scheduled to hit the nation Feb. 10, a day some activists have dubbed Bankruptcy Day.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed by Congress last summer, though many say they hadn't heard about it until recently.
Written in response to the 2007 scandals related to lead-containing toy imports by big corporations, the CPSIA has no exceptions for Barrett or anyone else. On Feb. 10, all sellers of goods intended for children must comply.
That same law is responsible for other financial hardships.
Secondhand children's clothing may become scarce. Ogden Rescue Mission Bargain Mart thrift store, for example, is liquidating its children's products.
"Our intention is, we're going to eliminate the children's departments until we get a clarification," said mission executive director Gary Doud.
"It's the corner they've backed us into. What else can we do?"
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency tasked with interpreting and enforcing the law, issued a news release Jan. 9 that said resellers such as thrift stores are exempt from the testing requirements.
However, that same release threatens resellers with criminal or civil penalties if they sell a lead-containing item, a risk Ogden Rescue Mission officials are not willing to take.
"We can't look at a button on one shirt and a button on another and know which one is safe and which one is not," said store manager Carla Hall.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, owner of Deseret Industries thrift stores, says no changes are planned for D.I., but they're watching the law closely.
The Jan. 9 clarification did calm some resellers.
Buck Elton owns a franchise of Kid to Kid stores in Bountiful, Layton and Riverdale, which primarily sells used children's items.
"We're moving forward with the belief that it is just unrealistic" and either will be amended or not enforced, Elton said.
"I can't believe that our government is that dumb (to let the law go into effect). I know they are politicians -- they are nuts, I know that -- but I can't believe this is what they intended."
For now, Kid to Kid's strategy will be to compare incoming inventory against government lists of recalled items, though Elton admits that task is "almost impossible" to do perfectly.
If the item is not one of roughly 1,700 kid-related recalled products, it will be sold, Elton said.
That strategy doesn't work for the Ogden Rescue Mission. Screening each kid product would be too expensive, Hall said.
Elton has something neither the Ogden Rescue Mission nor microproducers like Barrett has: a corporate umbrella. The Kid to Kid corporation has lawyers who could defend a penalized franchisee.
What microproducers lack in terms of formal power with lobbyists and lawyers, they may overcome with online organization.
In addition to her own site, Barrett also sells her products at Etsy.com, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based online shop with more than 200,000 active sellers and 2 million members. In 2008, the site sold $88 million worth of handmade crafts like Barrett's.
"As soon as we heard about it once or twice and looked into it more, we thought, 'This will have drastic implica-tions,' " said Adam Brown, Etsy spokesman. "So that's when we mobilized."
Etsy joined with competitors to form the Handmade Consortium, a group devoted to changing the law before Feb. 10. They and similar groups that have emerged enlisted their Web-connected sellers nationwide to call their congressmen and demand action.
The consortium is not celebrating yet, but some successes have resulted from its actions.
The CPSIA issue recently took sixth place in President Obama's Ideas for Change in America Competition, which solicited online votes for issues that need urgent action.
Some congressmen have asked for delayed implementation of the law, but nothing has been promised by committee chairmen, who are busy discussing Obama's economic recovery plan.
Top of Utah lawmakers in Washington say they support delaying implementation and amending the law.
"This probably illustrates why Congress sometimes needs to take more time to react and interview real people to see how our proposed laws impact them," Rep. Rob Bishop says in a written statement.
Officials in Sen. Bob Bennett's office said he's concerned about the impact on business.
"(Bennett) has spoken with Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and asked her to meet with him next week for further discussion on this issue," his office wrote in a statement.
Sen. Orrin Hatch's office said he is very busy and does not sit on any committees relevant to the issue.ALL Monkey Bunns products have been verified by an XRF gun or by 3rd party certificates. I will continue to sell cloth diapers until they are sold out (I'm busy sewing tons more up before February 9th). I am hoping I will be able to continue to sell diapers but if the law doesn't change I will be featuring non-baby related items. Please contact your state representatives in Washington DC about this important matter!