Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Baby Clothes as Hazardous Waste

Last week, we found out some surprising news from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. On August 14, 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was signed into law. This federal legislation arose from the recent discovery of imported toys with high lead content. The law mandates that starting on February 10, 2009, it is a criminal offense to sell children’s products with lead content higher than 660 parts per million. This level drops to 300 parts per million after August 14, 2009. In effect, such children’s products are considered hazardous waste and can result in criminal and civil penalties. Also, as part of the act, it becomes immediately unlawful to sell products that have been recalled.

Last week, as the ramifications of this act sank in, a number of news stories (9News and Wall Street Journal.com) appeared in local and national news outlets. They warned about the possibility of this legislation having the unintended effect of closing numerous children product resellers because of the costly nature of complying with the requirements of the act. At the time, it appeared that resellers would have to test and certify products, including baby clothes, to prove that they are lead free.

I don’t think any resellers are opposed to the idea of lead safety standards for baby clothes and materials. The concern rises from the potential liability of selling such product and the onerous proposition of testing all uncertified products in a typical baby thrift store. This becomes ridiculous when you realize that testing an item for lead often involves destroying it, making the whole process impractical for a thrift store with only one of the items being tested.

Fortunately, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released new guidance on the act exempting resellers from having to test or certify that products are lead free. However, resellers are still prohibited from selling such products with lead levels above the limit. Thrift stores need to “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.”(CPSC News Release, January 8, 2009) In addition, it remains illegal to sell recalled items so resellers are required to manage their inventory accordingly.

This week, we are still trying to digest what this all means for our Baby Bud’s job-training program. An even bigger concern is the possibility of future business regulation legislation with unintended impacts on one of our other faith venture projects. Without an umbrella trade agency keeping track of such legislative developments, it is hard to stay up to date on developments and plan accordingly.

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