Thursday, March 18, 2010

Politicalization of the CPSIA

I was recently asked for a link to an article I wrote a year ago for Change.org. The article talked briefly about the politicalization of the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008). For reasons unknown, the article is no longer available on Change.org. I'm reposting it here so that it can still be accessed for those who wish to view it.

The Politicization of the CPSIA
By Jennifer Grinnell
Published February 22, 2009 @ 07:29PM PST at Change.org

After reading the opinion pieces this week in The New York Times (“Is That Fabulous New Toy Safe?” February 23rd, 2009) and the Times and Democrat (“Demint should put children first.” February 18th, 2009) regarding the CPSIA, the American consumer must be wondering, what is wrong with the children’s consumer goods industry? How could such a sensible law create such controversy?

Misleading rhetoric, unfortunately, is drowning out sensible discussion. People on one end of the American political spectrum would peg the CPSIA as part of the Democratic Party’s push for a “Nanny State,” or as motivated solely to benefit lawyers in a litigious society. On the other side are those who cheered its inception. They are appalled by calls to delay and amend the law, believing that any changes will “[endanger] the lives of millions of children.” The reality is that the CPSIA is not part of a plan to render the US a Socialist nation, nor an intended gift to trial lawyers. And the other sad reality is that the CPSIA does not protect children from law breakers any more than the standards that were in place prior to its inception did. The CPSIA is simply a piece of legislation written with the best of intentions but without the best science behind it, nor the best understanding of the multiple industry segments that make our children’s products.

Full disclosure: I am a toy retailer. But I am also a mother of three young boys. In 2007 after the first round of toy recalls were announced, I had to pry the lead-tainted Thomas the Tank Engine trains from the sticky hands of my then 2-year-old son (I really did.) He cried and I had to explain to him and his two older brothers that the toys weren’t made very carefully and that they had a “poison” in them. My then 6 year old wanted to know why the people who made the toys wanted to poison him. I had a hard time trying to explain this to myself, let alone my child. To be quite honest, I still don’t understand large-scale overseas manufacturing well enough to explain how these products got out of the plant with lead paint in them. But I can imagine it to be a combination of cost-cutting measures (is lead paint cheaper? Maybe it doesn’t take as many coats?), poor quality control and low oversight during overseas production. In other words, whoever was in charge of securing compliant components (i.e., non-toxic paint) didn’t do their job. And they broke the law. Lead paint has been illegal in the United States for decades. But I am not na├»ve and can also imagine it was something else, too.

So, why would manufacturers and retailers protest this law?

It’s not a bizarre opposition to the concept of chemical-free toys. Toys should be free from bio-available toxins. Period. And for that matter, so should my couch, your clothes, my mom’s food and our children’s shampoo. How do we insure that our products—all of our products—minimize harm to our bodies and the environment? We can choose to just look at toys and children’s goods but I believe we’ll miss the larger problem. The most sensible way to take lead and phthalates out of the children’s goods commerce stream is, quite literally, to go further upstream to the source of the component materials and require component testing. For example, let’s say that Fabulous Fabrics Inc makes 100,000 yards of Super Special Fabric No. 8 this year. If manufacturer A buys 100 yards of Super Special Fabric No. 8 to make a rabbit lovey, and manufacturer B buys 500 yards for his deluxe terrycloth towel in pink, why are both manufacturers required to test that same fabric? The fabric itself should be certified when the supplying manufacturer first ran its batch of 100,000 yards. Because now manufacturers A, B and probably C, D, E, F, G and H are all testing the same fabric for loveys, towels, bathmats, shower curtains, bathrobes and that strange new Snuggie blanket that seems to be vying for airtime with the Sham-Wow. That’s quite a bit of redundant testing that does not make the fabric any safer than when it left Fabulous Fabrics Inc.

It’s not because we are putting profit in front of safety. Creating safe toys actually isn’t costly. But buying that piece of paper that says products are safe is costly to a small business. And here we come to the crux of the argument: Small businesses can’t afford to prove that their already safe products are safe. On the other hand, the larger manufacturers that had the opportunity to bless the new legislation can afford to pay for 3rd party testing. They can absorb those costs into their large product runs. Individual crafters, micro and small businesses cannot. There is no other drama here. No hidden agenda. No one is trying to “wiggle out” of the law, or squeeze a larger margin out of the American people and be damned children’s health. Law abiding manufacturers are essentially being taxed to prove that they are not breaking the law. Lead paint is not legal in the US. Maybe I’m missing something essential here, but, unless it’s manufactured overseas, how would a manufacturer even obtain lead-based paint?

And it’s certainly not because we are “right-wing business groups.”[4] At Toy Fair on Sunday night, I had the opportunity to go out to dinner with some of my industry colleagues that are members of the Handmade Toy Alliance. To my left sat a vegetarian from Vermont, to my right a cloth diaper retailer from Arizona. Also at the table were people from New York, Connecticut, Minnesota and three people (me included) from Massachusetts. The sad fact about larger public discussions in the US these days is how politicized almost every subject has become. In an “us” and “them” environment, we seem to have lost site of the fact that perhaps we, the citizens who find fault with this law, actually have a legitimate point and are not trying to advance an ideology or nefarious political agenda. We are simply small business owners who have been stuck with a bill incurred by large companies that overspent on the public’s trust.

The opinion piece from the Times and Democrat allowed reader comments online. One written by Skylar 6 served as a succinct, albeit sadly cynical, summation:
“Bottom line, Left vs. Right, Dems [sic] vs. GOP, Good vs. Evil, The fight goes on.”
I sincerely hope this “fight” does not go on.

Jennifer Grinnell is Owner and Founder of the online store LivingPlaying.com, Toys & Games for Creative Play. She is also a member of the Handmade Toy Alliance and CPSIA-Central. She lives in Sherborn, MA with her husband and three children.

This article originally appeared at Change.org at http://www.change.org/ideas/4203/view_blog/the_politicization_of_the_cpsia

1 comment:

Jenny Williams said...

I've been trying to access the livingplaying.com website and I keep getting a request for a user name and password. Is the site no longer working?