Wednesday, December 23, 2009

CPSC Commissioner Anne Northup's Wall Street Journal Editorial on CPSIA

CPSC Commissioner Anne Northup published an editorial today in the Wall Street Journal about the need for congress to make common sense reforms of the CPSIA.

Northup, who was appointed to the commission by President Obama, wrote:
The [CPSIA] also imposes onerous product testing by outside labs that smaller manufacturers and handicraft makers simply cannot afford. Instead of spending money to expand and create jobs, companies have diverted billions of dollars so far to destroy innocuous but noncompliant inventory, as well as to understand and meet complex new compliance obligations.

We couldn't agree more. Thank you, Commissioner Northup, for giving your voice to the cause of small batch manufacturers and the need for amending the CPSIA.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Anniversary of Sorts

It is an anniversary of sorts. It has been one year since I learned about the CPSIA and started my journey to amend the law. And my journey with the Handmade Toy Alliance. The last week has been a flurry of information and frankly, I am on information overload. I have taken it upon myself to read the bulk of the actual legislation, much of the news reports that have come out throughout the last year, as well as the multitude of rulings that have been promulgated by the CPSC. That’s a heck of a lot of information, to say the least.

Last week, I traveled to DC for the third time since April – this time to participate in workshops at the CPSC offices in Bethesda. In addition to the enormous amount of information presented in the workshop itself, and the large number of informal conversations that went on within the halls of the CPSC, I came home to read about report language within the Omnibus Appropriations Bill (now cleared for the President’s signature) and pending legislation written by Rep. Waxman allowing for a very partial revision of the CPSIA (which was later cut from the bill it was attached to). This is the first time that Congress has formally acknowledged that perhaps there is a need for a legislative amendment to the original legislation. Big news indeed.

As a group, the Handmade Toy Alliance has always worked towards a legislative amendment, while developing a constructive relationship with the CPSC to ensure a common sense approach to implementation of the act. We believe in the intent of the law, but feel that the narrow wording (specifically the use of the word “any lead”, rather than “de minimis risk of lead”), eliminates the ability to utilize risk assessment in the implementation process. Our member businesses only want the opportunity to continue crafting beautiful, safe products for children. It is as simple as that.

Today, the CPSC voted to extend the stay of enforcement for the testing and certification requirements of Sec 102 of the CPSIA for an additional year (through February 10, 2011). This was a highly debated decision and, although not a focus of the workshops last week, was definitely a large part of behind the scenes discussion. The topic of the workshops – testing requirements and implementation – include rulings which will soon be promulgated. And, are of the utmost concern to our membership as they will dictate for most if they are able to stay in business.

So, what do I make of these developments? As I shared in the beginning, I am on information overload, but I am encouraged. The report language that now sits on the President’s desk states the following: “The CPSC is directed to assess enforcement efforts of section 101(a), including difficulties encountered, as well as recommendations for improvement to the statute, and to report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, no later than January 15, 2010.” There is also specific mention to address the concerns experienced by small batch manufacturers.

Is this the beginning of the open hearings that we have been requesting? I don’t think so. Could this be the beginning of an amendment to the CPSIA? Possibly. Is it acknowledgement that there are issues that the CPSC may not be able to address? Probably. The conundrum now is that if open hearings do not occur, but the Democratic leadership makes the changes necessary to allow our member businesses to continue doing what they love, is that okay? We have always recognized that we would need the force of the Democrats to truly make a change, and that change may occur behind closed doors. If the end result is the same – a legislative amendment to the CPSIA – do we really need to speak in an open hearing? Perhaps not, but I would still like to. We’ll see what happens.

For now, I am grateful for the additional time the continued stay of enforcement brings us. I feel encouraged that many of the formal requests the HTA has made over the last year appear to be on the table and being openly discussed. I believe that the work we have engaged in for the last year is being acknowledged. And, I have hope. For now, that will need to be enough.

Jill Chuckas
Secretary, Handmade Toy Alliance

Monday, December 14, 2009

The HTA Make Their Case at the CPSC's Workshops on CPSIA Testing

The Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) sent five of their nine Board members to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) workshops this past Thursday and Friday, December 10th and 11th, 2009.

HTA President, Cecilia Leibovitz (VT), HTA Vice President, Dan Marshall (MN), HTA Secretary, Jill Chuckas (CT), HTA Treasurer, Mary Newell (OR), and Board Member, Kate Glynn (MA) represented the 399 members of the Handmade Toy Alliance as active participants at the workshop. In addition, HTA members Paul Bingaman ( -CA) and Randall Hertzler ( - PA) traveled to DC, adding their perspectives as small retail business owners.

Representatives from across the children’s product industry gathered in very crowded rooms, listening to prepared presentations from members of the CPSC staff and participating in roundtable discussions on various implementation issues. “It was remarkable the breadth of groups that attended the workshops,” Leibovitz stated. “It was vividly clear that HTA members are very different from other manufacturers, in terms of both number of employees and style of manufacturing.”

“We repeatedly spoke in the roundtable discussions about the process our members take in their production lines - from sourcing to quality control and everything in between - always emphasizing that small batch manufacturers must be regarded differently than large scale factory manufacturers,” said Marshall.

Clear recognition of this difference was heard in day two, when David Pittle, former CPSC Commissioner (1973-82) and former Senior VP at Consumers Union (1982-2005) stated:
There is something I've heard over the last few days, which I'll never be the same on because it was new to hear it all...and that is the important distinction between large batch manufacturers and small batch manufacturers... The small batch manufacturer...needs a very careful and judicious way of making sure they can do it and survive.
In addition to participation in the CPSC workshops, HTA members presented their petition to CPSC Chair Tenenbaum and Commissioner Adler that included over 24,000 signatures in support of an amendment to the CPSIA. They also got the chance to share their thoughts with Commissioner Adler. “This was just another indication that we (HTA) are being heard loud and clear,” Newell stated. “After participating vigorously in the panel discussions, it was very encouraging to meet Commissioner Adler and help him to see the faces of the folks who are the HTA membership. It was a powerful and meaningful opportunity.”

HTA members also had an opportunity to discuss compliance issues with several representatives from Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Public Citizen. “It was important for us to show the consumer groups first hand just how much we have in common,” stated Glynn. “HTA is all about children’s product safety and we hope to build an open dialogue with as many consumer groups as possible. We feel that there are many issues that we can be partners on, working together to further all of our interests.”

“Still on the top of the HTA to do list are pushing for a continued stay of enforcement, approval of a component testing rule and encouraging the CPSC to bring problems with the legislation to Congress’ attention,” Chuckas reiterated. “As we have stated many times in the past, we believe in the spirit of the CPSIA, we just want to be sure that small batch manufacturers can continue to survive. After all, we all started in this business to bring safe and unique products to consumers – we just want to keep doing what we love.”

In the photo: CPSC Chair Inez Tenenbaum, HTA members Kate Glynn, Cecilia Leibovitz, Dan Marshall, Mary Newell, and CPSC Commissioner Robert Adler.

The Elf's Lament

Thanks to the Barenaked Ladies for understanding.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Press Release: HTA members to attend CPSIA workshop at CPSC this week

The Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) will send five of their nine Board members to the upcoming Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) workshops this Thursday and Friday, December 10th and 11th, 2009. HTA President, Cecilia Leibovitz (VT), HTA Vice President, Dan Marshall (MN), HTA Secretary, Jill Chuckas (CT), HTA Treasurer, Mary Newell (OR), and Board Member, Kate Glynn (MA) will represent the 399 members of the Handmade Toy Alliance as active participants at the workshop.

"Our mission remains clear. We continue to seek an amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) that includes risk assessment,” states Marshall. “But, we are excited to be included in this opportunity to enact policy that may assist our members.”

The workshop is designed to address issues relating to test programs, material changes to children’s products and third-party testing, component testing, and product labeling. Those present will have the ability to present comments, views, and questions. Marshall, Chuckas and Newell have been selected to participate as panelists in some of the roundtable discussions during the workshop. In addition to these discussions, there will be formal presentations from CPSC staff relating to the implementation of the CPSIA.

“We were not present when the original legislation was being written,” Chuckas stated. “This is our chance to share our concerns with the regulatory agency in the hopes that our voices will help shape the policy surrounding the CPSIA.”

“Our members continue to have multiple questions,” added Newell. “This is a lengthy and difficult act to understand and implement into basic business practice. Our members are generally small, micro businesses that often do not have access to lawyers or others that can help them interpret the CPSIA in an effort to prove compliance. We will do our best to represent all of our concerns directly to the staff at the CPSC.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lo, the hamster shall explain to us the CPSIA.

Well, there's been a lot of acrimony in the past few days about antimony and toy hamsters. If you're reading this blog, you're probably aware that the "Good Guide", the self-appointed arbiters of product safety and responsibility, released a press release on December 5th in which they claimed that the Zhu Zhu pet hamster "Mr. Squiggles" exceeds federal limits for antimony.

Yes, they said, the inexplicably runaway hit of this holiday toy season is poisonous.

Then, after some excellent investigation by non-toxic toy advocate The Smart Mama and others, it became clear that the Good Guide got its facts wrong. They used an XRF gun (a portable x-ray machine that analyzes chemical content) to determine Mr. Squiggle's antimony levels. Federal law, however, uses ASTM's limits based on soluble antimony. This means the standard is based on how much antimony leaches from the toy in an acid solution, not how much total content exists in the toy--two very different standards. And, it turns out, Mr. Squiggles passed his soluble antimony test just fine, which the CPSC affirmed.

(By the way, if you're actually concerned about antimony in your home, you should read how much is in some mattresses, where it is often used as a fireproofing agent to meet CPSC-mandated federal guidelines.)

Today, the Good Guide issued a retraction, no doubt hoping they won't be sued:
"Since issuing our release, we have learned that the testing methodology used in the federal standards (a soluble method) is different than the methodology we used in our testing (a surface-based method) ... We should not have compared our results to federal standards. We regret this error."
We feel compelled to point out that, under the CPSIA, if a well-meaning toymaker made a similar mistake, they would face potential fines of $8,000 to $100,000 for each violation [pdf], not including possible state attorney general actions.

But even more than that, we would like to draw attention to the fact that the Good Guide got this wrong even though they have a board of 10 "trusted scientific advisors", 9 of whom hold doctorates. Here we might raise our voice a bit: If the Good Guide has these scientists and doctors at their disposal and still can't properly interpret CPSIA and ASTM standards, how can small businesses like ours even hope to comply?

The CPSIA regulates not only lead levels in toys, but also antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, and mercury, all of which require third party lab testing. This burden on small toy manufacturers is enormous and untenable.

Finally, we agree that the Good Guide has done a great disservice to the cause of safer children's products with their misinformation this week. As the Smart Mama writes,
"You can only cry wolf so many times before people stop believing you. You can’t cry ”wolf” when the standard doesn’t apply...So shame on the Good Guide."
Hamster FAIL indeed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Press Release: Buy Handmade this Holiday Season

Montpelier, VT – November 30, 2009– The Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) urges parents and grandparents to give handmade gifts to the children in their lives this holiday season. This year more than any other, small batch makers of toys, clothes, and accessories need their customers' support.

It's been a challenging year for all of involved in making or selling handmade children's goods,” said HTA President Cecilia Leibovitz of Craftsbury Kids (VT). “We've all been working all year to understand and adapt to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008, which requires us to perform many of the same tests as Mattel and other large manufacturers. Now that the Holidays are here, though, we're happily focusing our energies on what really matters—delighting children with unique gifts”.

To help connect shoppers with unique gifts, the HTA has developed an easy to use listing of featured members, which includes business profiles and links to member websites. “It's an easy way to find a special gift,” said HTA board member Heather Flottmann of Liliputians NYC (NY). “We have so many wonderful little companies offering gifts that you'll never find at Wal-Mart or Target.”

When you buy handmade, you're getting something that can't be found in a factory made product,” said Jolie Fay of Skipping Hippos (OR). “You're getting a gift made with love, not just for money. It's a tangible connection to thousands of years of human history in which toys and clothes were made by people, not machines. Children really do understand and appreciate the difference.”

As for the CPSIA, HTA members remain hopeful that common sense will prevail in Washington so that their businesses will survive. “This is a long term struggle,” said Leibovitz, “But one way or another I'm sure we will prevail. We'd just like to get back to making wonderful and delightful children's goods instead of writing letters to Congress.”

So, on behalf of the 399 business members of the Handmade Toy Alliance, we wish everyone a very happy holiday season,” said Leibovitz.

The HTA includes retail stores, toymakers and children's product manufacturers from across the country who want to preserve consumer access to unique handmade toys, clothes and all manner of small batch children's goods in the USA. Formed in November of 2008 in response to the CPSIA, HTA members are parents, grandparents and consumers who are passionate about their businesses as well as the safety of the children in their lives. While in support of the spirit of the law, the unintended consequences of the CPSIA have motivated members of the HTA to work to enact change at a federal level.

"Holly Berry Girls" ornaments by mooshoopork via the Flikr catalog of endangered childrens' goods.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Are You Really A CPSIA Victim?

The following is a repost of a blog entry by Whimsical Walney, a fellow CPSIA activist:

Main Entry: vic·tim Pronunciation: \ˈvik-təm\Function: noun Etymology: Latin victima; perhaps akin to Old High German wīh holy Date: 15th century
1 : a living being sacrificed to a deity or in the performance of a religious rite

2 : one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent s of the social system>: as a (1) : one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions cancer> auto crash> (2) : one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment b : one that is tricked or duped >

Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

I wanted to wait a little bit before posting my reaction to the NY Times piece about the CPSIA. The CPSIA Twitter stream showcased a positive reaction from those involved and Walter Olson did a usual spot-on post how it’s about time the NY Times weighed in.

So the fact that I seemed to be the only one (at least that I could tell) for whom the article left a bad taste made me take pause. Add to the mix that the Handmade Toy Alliance has been working so hard to bring this issue to the fore; to bring the facts about how CPSIA hurts small business to consumers nationwide and I felt it would diminish their efforts. I was proud to see people I have worked with over the course of this year quoted in this well respected publication.

Enough time has passed now, though, that I feel I can weigh in. Remember that quote from Jerry Maguire, “You had me at hello”? Well, I am finding that Ms. Wayne lost me at, “portray themselves as victims of bureaucrats and consumer advocates.”

The entire paragraph reads:

These homegrown toymakers are banding together to portray themselves as victims of bureaucrats and consumer advocates, and have started letter-writing campaigns to Congress.

There is no question that many businesses are victims of this law. By saying that people are banding together to “portray” themselves as victims is really just saying to me that the author doesn’t actually believe that those businesses, that WE, are really victims. This is not a made-for-television mini-series or big box office comedy where everything is made right in the end once the nasty politician sees the err of his ways and finds true love in the very small business owner he was once trying to squash.

I recognize that journalists often have to leave a certain level of distance from their subjects, but the use of that word made me think she didn’t believe at all in what so many hoped was the point of her piece: CPSIA unnecessarily hurts small business.

So in my usual form I wanted to see if I was being oversensitive and decided to determine if, by definition, I am a victim. I therefore went straight to the source: the dictionary. And the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary verified that I was not overreacting. Not only that but it reminded me what we have all known all along. Not one single business is trying to play the role of a victim because they are, in fact, victims of this terrible law.

Shall we explain to Ms Wayne that this is more Erin Brokovich than You’ve Got Mail? Nah, maybe we should just keep reminding Congress instead.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The time is ripe for legislative change to CPSIA

Below is a list of high priority members on Commerce Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee to lobby for legislative change to CPSIA. Please consider setting up a face to face meeting if you are a crafter or small business owner in one of these states. I spoke with Congressman Peter Welch's (VT) aide today and he stressed that our move toward legislative change will go much more quickly, if more of us set up *face to face* meetings with committee member staffers. Our efforts are really starting to take shape and this is the time to turn up the heat.

Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection

Bobby L. Rush, Illinois
Chairman Jan Schakowsky, IL
Vice Chair George Radanovich, CA
Ranking MemberJohn P. Sarbanes, MD
Cliff Stearns, FL
Betty Sutton, OH
Ed Whitfield, KY
Frank Pallone, Jr. NJ
Joseph R. Pitts, PA
Bart Gordon, TN
Mary Bono Mack, CA
Bart Stupak, MI
Lee Terry, NE
Gene Green, TX
Sue Wilkins Myrick, NC
Charles A. Gonzalez, TX
John Sullivan, OK
Anthony D. Weiner, NY
Tim Murphy, PA
Jim Matheson, UT
Phil Gingrey, GA
G. K. Butterfield, NC
Steve Scalise, LA
John Barrow, GA
Joe Barton, TX (ex officio)
Doris O. Matsui, CA
Kathy Castor, FL
Zachary T. Space, OH
Bruce L. Braley, IA
Diana DeGette, CO
John D. Dingell (ex officio)
Henry A. Waxman, CA (ex officio)

Friday, November 6, 2009

CPSC releases CPSIA guidance document with preliminary rules for component testing and product retesting

On Friday, the CPSC issued draft guidance on component testing, retesting requirements, and one-of-a-kind items which should benefit many of our members if the CPSC grants enough time for these rules to be implemented.

In a first step toward allowing component-based testing, the CPSC's preliminary guidance would allow manufacturers to utilize testing performed by their component suppliers instead of testing each component in a finished product.

Component-based testing has been a keystone of the HTA's proposals for change and we view it as crucial to the survival of hundreds of small batch manufacturers. It would allow suppliers of our raw materials to provide a manufacturer with certification of compliance within the law, which would eliminate the need for redundant and costly unit-based testing.

We are very pleased that the CPSC rules for component-based testing included not just notions and hardware like button, zippers, and hinges, but also paint and other surface coatings such as varnish and silkscreen ink.

We welcome the CPSC's decision to allow component-based testing, which is not explicitly authorized by the CPSIA legislation. However, it will take years for our component suppliers to realize the need to perform these tests as economic pressure pushes upstream in the supply chain. We have only three months until the deadline for testing and certification on 2/10/10, which is not long enough for small manufacturers to take advantage of these new rules, which will not even be voted on until after Januray 11, 2010.

We therefore reiterate our call for an additional one year stay of enforcement. The CPSC and manufacturers alike need more time to comply. And, we urge the CPSC to announce a continued stay as soon as possible instead of waiting until the last minute as was done in January 2009.

Fridays's guidance document also addressed retesting schedules and one-of-a-kind items, which are also key concerns for our members.

The CPSC has adopted the HTA's proposal to allow an exemption to annual retesting requirements for small batch manufacturers. Basically, they're allowing a flexible retesting schedule based on risk factors and relief from retesting until the number of units produced exceeds 10,000. This is very welcome relief for our members and will help ensure the continued availability of low-volume specialty and handmade children's products.

For the first time, the CPSC addressed the unique situation of one-of-a-kind items, encouraging manufacturers to utilize component-based testing and the testing of similar products to assure compliance. We welcome the CPSC's willingness to address this issue, which is of critical importance for many of our members.

Combined with previous CPSC rule making that exempted fabric, paper, and natural materials, this ruling does a lot to address the concerns of small batch manufacturers. However, we still require adjustments that only Congress can fix, including harmonization with EU standards, flexibility on lead limits for de minimus risks such as rhinestones and brass, and legislative affirmation of component-based testing.

The CPSC has clearly shown its intention to create reasonable rules when they can. However, they have also clearly indicated that there are multiple issues in which their hands are tied by the inflexible language of the law. The time is now for Congress to address these issues and fix the CPSIA.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Congressman Charles Dent of Pennsylvania endorses the HTA's requests to the CPSC

In a November 4 letter to the CPSC, Representative Charles Dent of (R-Pennsylvania) asked the Commission
to fully consider each of the recommendations submitted by the Handmade Toy Alliance, specifically the requests to extend the existing stay of testing and certification requirements for an additional year and not prosecute makers of one-of-a-kind items for failure to test their products.
The full text of his letter appears below. We thank Representative Dent for his attention to our concerns about the CPSIA and his support for another one year stay of enforcement.

Letter to CPSC from Congressman Dent -

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A very busy day for the HTA and the CPSIA

After a full year of efforts trying to save their small businesses from the mandates of the CPSIA, the Handmade Toy Alliance met two important milestones on October 30.

First, assisted by Senator Merkley (OR), the HTA met via video conference with CPSC commissioners Inez Tenenbaum and Robert Adler, an aide to Senator Dodd (CT), and a team of about a dozen CPSC staffers to discuss policy actions to protect small batch children's product manufacturers.

Second, the New York Times reported for the first time on the CPSIA's impact on small businesses. A little handmade wooden airplane even found itself on the front page. The report focused on the HTA's efforts to convince congress to amend the CPSIA.

“It was a very busy day,” said HTA secretary Jill Chuckas, owner of Crafty Baby (CT). “In the morning we got the chance to tell the CPSC what we need. And then in the evening I found myself quoted in the New York Times.”

During the morning CPSC meeting, Commissioner Adler expressed a desire to protect small manufacturers as much as possible within the constrains of the CPSIA. Speaking about the difficulty small business have affording the testing required by the law, he said “You're the folks who keep us awake at night.” He also reiterated that “The CPSC did not write this law.”

The meeting centered on nine requests the HTA submitted to the CPSC, the most important of which would stay enforcement of testing requirements for another year so that the CPSC can finalize rule-making on a host of important issues. “Our goal is not to create loopholes in the law for unsafe products,” said Dan Marshall of Peapods Natural Toys (MN) “We just want to save our small businesses.”

In the Times article, titled “Burden of Safety Law Imperils Small Toymakers”, Nancy Cowles of the consumer group Kids in Danger was quoted as opposing the HTA's efforts to reform the CPSIA, claiming that big industry players “are not above using the small crafters to reopen the legislation and get the changes they want.”

“This is the absurd logic that we've been hearing for a long time,” said HTA board member Rob Wilson of Challenge & Fun (MA). “We are not agents for big companies. We have been highly critical of Mattel and other multinationals for their role in shaping the CPSIA in their favor. What Cowles is basically saying is that handcrafters and small batch manufacturers are closing their businesses as a favor to Mattel.”

“If Kids in Danger and other consumer groups would just respond to our repeated requests for dialog, I'm sure we could reach an understanding that serves both our interests,” said Marshall. “If they could have listened to our morning meeting with the CPSC, they would understand our desire to fix this law without compromising safety. Unfortunately, they seem more interested in protecting the status quo.”

The HTA's next steps are to include more meetings with the CPSC, which will hopefully lead to policy actions and the clarification of a number of issues. The HTA is also offering to help the CPSC reach out to small batch manufacturers.

“Even though we feel very encouraged by the CPSC's willingness to work with us, we need to keep in mind that their hands are tied on many issues,” said Wilson. “We need Congress to pass a technical amendment to the CPSIA, and we need Senator Pryor to begin that process with an open hearing in his Senate commerce committee."

In other coverage of the day's events, Walter Olson reacted to the NYTimes article in his Overlawyered blog, writing:

Okay, so the Times was — well, not a day late and a dollar short, but more like 300 days late and many billions of dollars in overlooked costs short. Still, let’s be grateful: the paper’s news side has now implicitly rebuked the editorial side’s fantastic, ideologically blinkered dismissal of “needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises”. And the Times’s belated acknowledgment of the story can serve as permission for other sectors of the media dependent on Times coverage — including some magazines and network news departments — to acknowledge at last the legitimacy of the story and begin according serious attention to the continuing CPSIA calamity.
We feel compelled to agree--by our count, the NYTimes was scooped at least 426 times on this story. But, better late than never. Now, let's fix the CPSIA!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Handmade Toy Alliance Requests CPSC Policy Actions under CPSIA

With February 10, 2010 fast approaching, the Handmade Toy Alliance has made a formal request to the CPSC for regulatory relief from the CPSIA through policy actions. We feel that these actions are absolutely necessary to save small batch childrens product manufacturing in the US.

Our fundamental belief is that the CPSIA focuses resources on processes rather than safety and needlessly hampers the Commission's ability to make product safety determinations based on risk. While we believe that only Congress can correct these issues, we have identified a number of areas where CPSC rulemaking based on common sense and risk analysis will prevent the needless destruction of hundreds of responsible small businesses.

The role of a federal agency is not just to enforce laws, but to give guidance to Congress. Our first request is for the CPSC to formally communicate to Congress that a technical amendment is needed to the CPSIA in order to correct its unintended consequences. Chief among these corrections would be to grant the CPSC discretion to apply risk analysis to the application of third party testing requirements and lead content limits.

We are also requesting a further one year stay of testing and certification requirements. We understand that the Commission will soon be issuing guidance on component testing rules under Section 102 of the CPSIA. However, these rules will arrive less than three months before the end of the current stay on February 10, 2010. This timeframe will provide little relief for manufacturers seeking to take advantage of component testing rules, who will need time to work with their component suppliers to assure upstream compliance.

Although the small batch community has already begun documenting CPSIA-compliant component suppliers (see, without CPSC-issued regulations in place we have had little power to force suppliers to test and certify.

Third, we want the CPSC to consider the needs of small businesses when they issue rules regarding retesting requirements under Section 102(d)(2)(B) of the CPSIA. We understand that large toy manufacturers, represented by the Toy Industry Association (TIA), have been arguing for a tiered schedule for retesting. Their proposal would define three tiers of manufacturers based on whether their factories have obtained ISO-9001 ratings. Under this scheme, “Tier 1” factories would be allowed to test less frequently and under more favorable conditions while “Tier 3” would have to test more often under less favorable conditions.

While we can appreciate TIA's intention to reward higher volume factories that have demonstrated quality and safety control, their scheme is unfair and unworkable at the scale of small batch manufacturers. ISO-9001 certification can cost tens of thousands of dollars and is not applicable to home workshops and small domestic manufacturers.

We are therefore requesting that TIA's standards not be applied to our small businesses. Instead, we request a retesting schedule based on the number of items produced, not on any chronological time line. Retesting should be required every 10,000 units for small manufacturers, not every 15 months.

Fourth, many small toymakers are facing huge compliance costs because of required ASTM testing, which the CPSIA requires for all toys. We are asking the CPSC to issue an enforcement policy which would remove the threat of prosecution for small batch toymakers who are unable to afford ASTM testing. The products made by these manufacturers should still be required to meet ASTM requirements and the manufacturer shall be required to act in good faith

This would allow a company to deal with products based on volume. Small businesses will most likely be able to afford to test higher volume items, but they should still have an incentive to bring in niche, low volume items that meet ASTM but are not third party tested. This policy would be entirely justified based on risk analysis, since toys distributed in smaller quantities pose a smaller potential public health risk than mass market toys.

Although the Commission has issued exemptions from lead content and phthalate testing for many toys which are made from natural or other exempted materials, ASTM testing remains an insurmountable burden for many small toymakers. Even though ASTM testing is usually somewhat straightforward and simple to do, many testing labs have instituted minimum per-item testing fees of $300-$350, which largely negates any savings from natural material exemptions. Many of our members simply cannot afford to pay these fees and will be forced to cease operations without this relief. This issue not only affects handmade items, but also adaptive toys for children with disabilities, classroom supplies, and other low-volume specialty toy products

Fifth, we are asking the CPSC to issue a statement of enforcement policy that it will not prosecute makers of one-of-a-kind products for failure to test. Dozens of our member businesses earn their living by making custom products ranging from ceremonial Native American costumes to fabric dolls to hair bows. Testing these one-of-a-kind products is both physically and financially impossible.

And, we are asking the Commission to improve its education and outreach to small businesses by publishing a simplified explanation of testing requirements and ASTM toy standards, and by answering all of the questions posted on the site, where the small batch community has been attempting to share knowledge and interpret the requirements of the CPSIA.

We have also requested the CPSC to appoint an ombudsperson to help communicate with the small batch manufacturing community. Such an ombudsperson would serve to expedite answers to questions, give input to CPSC staff about policy decisions on behalf of small batch manufacturers, and work with organizations such as Etsy and the Handmade Toy Alliance to communicate with small batch manufacturers.

We also feel that CPSC-approved third-party testing labs require more transparency and oversight. We are requesting that the Commission require that all CPSC-certified labs, as a condition of their certification, abandon their per-item minimum fees and post itemized per-test costs so that small manufacturers can easily compare testing services. Our members have found the process of obtaining quotes from testing labs to be extremely arduous and time consuming. And, third party testing firms have been less than forthright about their fees, often quoting for tests which the CPSC does not require. These independent operators need more oversight from the CPSC to ensure that they are treating small businesses fairly.

Finally, we would like the CPSC to implement an education strategy for consumers. Media attention in the wake of mass market toy recalls has improperly skewed the public's understanding the primary sources of lead poisoning, which remain lead in house paint, dirt near highly-traveled roads, and workplace exposure. Lead awareness campaigns from the 1970s and 80s have now been forgotten by today's parents even though the same problems persist. The CPSC should take steps to re-educate the public about the highest-risk sources of lead exposure.

We feel that these actions, if adopted by the CPSC, would save hundreds of small American businesses whose companies had nothing to do with the recalls of 2007. Hopefully, the CPSC will respond favorably to our requests. Someday, perhaps, we will also have the chance to tell Congress directly about the effects the CPSIA is having on our businesses.

photo: Plush Dollhouse by Abbydid.

Press Release: The Handmade Toy Alliance Urges the Senate to hold Hearings on the CPSIA

Stamford, CT – October 29, 2009– The Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA), along with thirty nine other trade associations, is calling on Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas to hold an open hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee on the unintended consequences of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

The HTA endorsed a letter dated October 28, 2009 from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to Senator Pryor urging him and his committee to review implementation of the CPSIA. Although a hearing was held in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection last month, only one witness, Inez Tenenbaum, Chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was called to testify—manufacturers and retailers who are facing extinction because of this sweeping law were excluded.

“This is just another reminder to our members of Congress that the issues plaguing small businesses and the hand crafted community from the CPSIA have not gone away,” Jill Chuckas, Secretary of the HTA and owner of Crafty Baby (CT) stated. “A hearing that fully discusses these issues needs to be held very soon.”

Dan Marshall, HTA Vice-President and co-owner of Peapods Natural Toys (MN), went on to state “At this point, there is not enough time for the CPSC to issue enough rulings to help small batch manufacturers address their compliance issues prior to the lifting of the stay on February 10, 2010. Congress needs to begin an active hearing process that engages manufacturers large and small in a meaningful way and finally correct this law.”

View the full text of NAM's letter here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Author of CPSIA Seeks to Protect Children from Weather Balloons

We saw this on the wire and wanted to share, since many news outlets overlooked it yesterday:

WASHINGTON, D.C. October 15, 2009
Rep. Henry Waxman Calls for Regulation of Weather Balloons to Protect Children

Citing today's episode in Fort Collins, Colorado, in which 6-year-old Falcon Heene was briefly thought to have perished in a homemade balloon, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is calling for tighter regulation of weather balloons.

"As chair of the House commerce committee, I have been a tireless advocate for children's safety," Waxman said at a late afternoon press conference. "Poor Falcon narrowly escaped certain death today due to his exposure to an untested weather balloon in his own backyard. My committee will see to it that no child will suffer this fate again."

Waxman said he is concerned that the American public generally considers weather balloons to be tested and certified by the federal government. "The American public already believes such regulation is currently in place. Today's incident proves that the public has been mislead and their trust has been violated."

Noting that the media frenzy surrounding Falcon's adventure was eerily similar to the frenzy during the 2007 toy recall crisis, Waxman said "this is exactly like Thomas the Tank Engine all over again. The same sense of shock, the same types of probing questions from the media--even the number of children maimed and killed was statistically similar! Only this time, it's not poison toys, it's weather balloons."

Waxman's newly introduced bill, the Help Our Tots Avoid Injury from aiRships Act, or HOT AIR, will require all weather balloons to be tested in a third party lab approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ensure that they do not contain any children. The CPSC will also be empowered to conduct searches at the ports and in citizen's garages to ensure that no weather balloon contains an excessive amount of child.

Consumer groups are cheering Waxman's proposal. "We hope this gets fast-tracked through Congress ahead of health care or climate change legislation," said a spokesperson from U.S. PIRG. "This issue is too big to ignore. We'll surely be able to increase our canvassing receipts with this one--everyone wants to protect children."

Waxman stressed that his bill contains no loopholes that might cause further harm to children. "Just as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 allows no amount of lead in any children's product under any circumstances, HOT AIR will not allow even a negligible amount of child in any weather balloon," Waxman said.

Baltel, the largest weather balloon manufacture, and Bal-Mart, the world's largest retailer of weather balloons, have already endorsed Waxman's bill. "It's obvious to us that the public demands accountability," a Bal-Mart representative said. "This bill will help us restore trust and squash those upstart handmade balloon operations that have been eroding our profits."

"We also appreciate Waxman's willingness to allow us to conduct our own testing--that will save us a lot of money," said a spokesperson for Baltel.

Meanwhile, as young Falcon Heene was tucked into bed this evening, Waxman sent his best wishes via a Hallmark e-card with the message "Sleep well, Falcon. By this time next week your parent's balloons will be illegal and you won't have to hide in a box ever again." Surely, young Falcon will sleep better knowing that Henry Waxman is on his side.

Hand-felted Waxman puppet by mullishmuse, available on Etsy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wisconsin Police Stop Giving Teddy Bears to Children Because of CPSIA

Police in Wisconsin, concerned about their potential liability under the CPSIA, have switched to giving out books instead of teddy bears to children in distress.

The retroactivity of the CPSIA has had a chilling effect on everyone involved in used children's goods. The CPSC might likely argue that they would never go after police officers handing out teddy bears, but like most people, Wisconsin police are eager to follow the law, no matter how ridiculous it is.

Still, we can't help but think these kids would appreciate a teddy bear a little more than a book.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The CPSIA Testing Requirements Flowchart

It is now one year and two months since the CPSIA was passed and we can honestly say that confusion is still the norm for those of us living under its mandates.

Among manufacturers, consumer groups, and even the politicians who wrote the CPSIA, we hear misinformation, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation of what the CPSIA actually requires. It's easy to get confused, of course, since the CPSIA is a very complicated law which subjects different types of products to very different rules.

Although the CPSC has issued guidance for small businesses seeking to comply with the CPSIA (much of which is internally contradictory and leaves many questions unanswered) they have not issued a simple, easy to understand document that describes which products must be tested and which tests must be performed.

So, we thought we'd help out.

We are happy to introduce the Handmade Toy Alliance CPSIA Testing Flowchart. It is intended for manufacturers making products now, not resellers. This reflects our best understanding of what tests the CPSIA requires manufacturers to perform. We're happy to take any suggestions for how this document could be improved--so let us know what you think.

Please feel free to share this document or post it on your site. We would also like to offer this document to the CPSC--we would love to see it used in an official capacity to help educate small business owners, many of whom have been driven to tears while trying to understand the CPSIA.

Download the CPSIA Testing Requirements Flowchart here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Consumer Confusion Over CPSIA Comes From CPSC Guidance, Not the Media

On October 3, CPSC Chair Inez Tenenbaum wrote an editorial in The Product Safety Forum about CPSC oversight of the resale market. "News outlets," she wrote, "have generated stories aimed at scaring hard-working, well-intentioned families about a new federal law that my agency, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, has been working hard to use to build safer communities."

Today, Handmade Toy Alliance board member Rob Wilson published a response in the same publication. Wilson wrote:
It's not the media causing confusion and panic in the marketplace, as Ms. Tenenbaum asserts in her article. In fact, the fears were caused by the CPSC itself, originating in its recently published guidebook, CPSC Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Resellers...If Chairman Tenenbaum wants coats, toys, books and children's products to remain in thrift stores this Christmas season, she needs to stop being a mouthpiece for the authors of the legislation who claim the law is absolutely perfect. If she wants families to be able to sell their kids' old clothes and toys on the weekends and remain law abiding citizens, she must start being an advocate for a common sense approach to implementing CPSIA.
Read Wilson's full article here.

The problems with the CPSIA will not be solved in the media. What we need is accelerated common-sense rule making by the CPSC and someone in congress with the courage and strength of character to correct this flawed law.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

CPSIA Component-Based Testing: a Day Late and a Dollar Short

On January 30, 2009, the CPSC stopped accepting comments on third-party testing of component parts under Section 102 of the CPSIA with a promise that guidance would be issued soon.

Nine months later, we are still waiting for them to issue rules that would allow component testing. With only 4 months left until third party testing becomes mandatory for all children's products, this delay is becoming less and less acceptable.

The Handmade Toy Alliance sent comments on component testing to the CPSC on December 30, 2008. We told the CPSC, "The use of component testing would allow many of us to remain in business, while adhering to the current regulations outlined in the CPSIA." Ten months later, we have still not received a reply.

Why is component testing important? Consider the lowly zipper. Without component testing, every pillow, pair of pants, dress, or kid's purse that uses a given style of zipper would have to test every zipper tooth, stop, and pull on every finished SKU. That's right--the same zipper under current CPSC guidance must be tested over and over by different manufacturers, once for every finished product type in which it is used.

With component testing, the zipper manufacturer can test and certify that the zipper meets lead content limits so that everyone who makes something with that zipper won't have to pay to test it again. The savings to small businesses are exponential.

Also, component testing would force CPSIA compliance upstream in the product supply chain, which would improve the safety of finished products for all consumer goods, not just CPSIA-regulated children's products. Manufacturers of paint, varnish, snaps, zippers, polyurethane laminate, hinges, screws, and velcro will all have an economic incentive to test and certify their materials.

Even consumer groups and Congressional leaders who fight against a technical amendment of the CPSIA have argued that component-based testing would solve many of the CPSIA's "implementation issues". Indeed, on January 16, 2009, CPSIA authors Henry Waxman, Bobby Rush, John D. Rockefeller and Mark Pryor wrote to the CPSC:
We encourage the Commission to move more quickly in consideration of [component testing]...The Commission must provide clearer guidance on this issue, and it must do so with greater speed than it has exhibited thus far. We do not believe that reaching a decision by August 2009 represents a sufficiently timely resolution of this issue.
And yet, here we are in October 2009 with no ruling on component testing in sight.

At this point, even if component testing were allowed as of tomorrow morning, it will be too late for many small businesses. The 2/10/10 deadline for third party testing is fast approaching and manufacturers are already buying materials now that they will still be using to make products after that deadline. Even though small-batch manufacturers have been working together to create a directory of CPSIA-Compliant materials, without CPSC-issued regulations we have little power to force suppliers to test and certify. Why would a zipper company spend money to test its zippers if the law doesn't justify it?

So, how can a useful component-based testing regulation be put in place in less than four months?

It can't.

The CPSC has stated that they do not plan to extend the one year stay of enforcement on testing requirements beyond 2/10/10. But, because of their lack of action on component-based testing, the only fair and workable solution will be to grant a further extension of the stay.

Common sense delayed is common sense denied.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tenenbaum sets CPSIA enforcement priorities for garage sales. Why not handmade, too?

In an editorial this week in the policy periodical Product Safety, CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum sought to assuage fears that her agency would be "fining people who host yard sales or garage sales." Rather, the CPSC will be working to educate resellers from eBay sellers to Goodwill Industries "to create a safer marketplace and a greater awareness of real hazards in the home and in the community."

Tenenbaum's assurances follow a month or more of critical press reports warning that, under the CPSC's Resale Roundup program, a misbegotten toy at a garage sale could land you in jail. Sure it seems far-fetched, but the letter of the CPSIA law does not exclude garage sales from CPSC enforcement action, unless perhaps one wanted to hire a constitutional lawyer to argue that the CPSC's authority does not extend to intrastate commerce. And, there is the example of the Indiana grandmother who got arrested for buying two bottles of cold medicine in the same week...

But, worry not, garage and yard sellers of America. Tenenbaum says the CPSC won't be coming for you, although she does "encourage consumers to educate themselves about recalls and hazardous products by visiting hosting a yard sale, creating an online auction, or taking some old products from the garage or attic to the local thrift store."

Of course, this exclusion wasn't published in the Federal Register, but in an editorial piece in an obscure inside the beltway policy paper. So, it has no real authority to back it up. And, the document might have been better received if Ms. Tenenbaum had taken the time to spell out some specifics. For example, if yard sales won't be targeted, what about craft fairs? Church sales? Flea markets? Swap meets? What about products like crystals and rhinestones that haven't been recalled but are no longer legal under the CPSIA?

Nonetheless, we feel that Tenenbaum's thinking here is extremely useful. She's not saying that garage sales don't need to comply with the CPSIA--just that the CPSC is setting an enforcement strategy which does not target them. And why should they, when they can get more bang for their buck by working with the largest resellers like eBay, the Salvation Army, and Goodwill to assure compliance? It's simple risk analysis.

Chair Tenenbaum should set the same type of enforcement strategy with handmade goods, which are directly analogous to garage sales. The CPSC should set a reasonable definition for handmade, such as businesses with no more than 2 employees, businesses that make less than x number of products per year, and one-of-a-kind items. Yes, these products must conform to CPSIA standards for lead and phthalate content, but the CPSC would not take enforcement action against these businesses for not conducting third party tests. Publish these guidelines in the Federal Register and work with groups like the Etsy and the Handmade Toy Alliance to communicate expectations to crafters. We've already offered to help.

This is not an exemption we're asking for. We are merely asking Chair Tenenbaum to not enforce testing requirements on micro-businesses. That won't solve problems for all of our member businesses, but it would be a common sense step in the right direction.

Note: HTA board member Rob Wilson has posted a somewhat more critical reaction to Chair Tenenbaum's editorial on CPSIA-Central. As always, his analysis is dead-on and worth the read.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Understanding the True Costs of CPSIA Testing Requirements

Photo of hand-painted acorns by Mamaroots via the Flikr album of endangered toys.

We've recently been challenged about our claims regarding the true costs of testing and whether our cost range of $300-$4,000 is correct. So, let's explore this topic a little closer.

First, some consumer groups seem to believe that clothes, wood products, and books have been exempted from testing requirements. In fact, this is not correct. Fabric, untreated woods and post-1985 books have been rendered exempt by the CPSC [pdf]. However, most clothing has some other notion on it, such as a button, snap, zipper, Velcro, etc., that would make the end product subject to the third party testing regulation. Wood that has paint or a finish on it or has exposed components such as screws or hinges must also undergo testing. Books printed prior to 1985 must be tested for lead. And, all toys must be tested for ASTM F963 (physical and mechanical tests) compliance. Although the CPSC's exemptions are helpful, we are hardly out of the woods. Most of our members will still be required to third party test for their products that are lead free.

And, although there have been non-toxic dyes and paints on the market for some time, they are not pre-empted from testing by the CPSC. Indeed, the testing requirements on paints and dyes are more stringent. Once paint, varnish, or any other surface treatment such as a silkscreen is applied to wood or fabric, the end product must be tested. One would hope that the CPSC would allow the common sense approach of component based certification, which would allow us to rely on testing of material components instead of finished products, but the CPSC has not yet approved this.

We have also heard consumer groups claim that the average cost per toy test is as low as $75. We agree this would be a more manageable fee, but reality again proves more severe. There may be a misunderstanding as to the type of testing that we are quoting. We are referring to third party testing in a CPSC certified laboratory. This is digestive testing, which destroys the sample, not XRF scanning of the product which keeps the sample intact (a method that we advocate). It should be noted that once the stay of enforcement ends on 2/10/10, digestive batch testing by a certified lab will be the ONLY approved testing method.

The oft-cited figure of $75 per test is actually the approximate cost of a digestive lead test on a single element of a product. Each zipper, button, screw, color of paint, or piece of trim is considered a separate element and each must be tested for lead. Each size or color of a toy is also considered a different product and must also undergo the same test even if the materials are the same. So, the cost of CPSIA-certified lead testing increases quickly depending upon the design of the product and how many tests it requires. Also, toys must be tested for phthalates and ASTM conformity, which can be even costlier to perform. And, under section 102(d)(2)(B) of the CPSIA, testing must be repeated, possibly as frequently as every year. We stand behind our estimates of $300 - $4,000 per item for CPSIA-compliant testing.

We strongly believe that this cost burden is untenable for small manufacturers. We recognize that toy safety is important and testing is a good tool to assure that consumers have access to safe toys, but we advocate a testing requirement that allows for XRF testing, component based certification and a reasonable ASTM test without driving the most conscientious, innovative and unique manufactures out of business. We are not against testing, just against redundant and burdensome testing.

XRF testing for lead would be much more affordable. In fact, a great majority of our members have utilized this technology in order to continue selling their product during the stay. The CPSC uses this methodology regularly as a screening technique and deemed it a “reasonable testing protocol”.

We also advocate for component based certification. This way, all of the raw materials that we utilize in our product lines would be tested prior to coming into our studios, thereby enhancing compliance up the supply stream. Manufacturers could then use these certifications to prove compliance under the law. Unfortunately, this is not written into the CPSIA. Nor has the CPSC ruled that these methodologies are compliant with the CPSIA.

Our goal at the Handmade Toy Alliance has always been to find a way to verify the safety of children's products without driving small manufacturers out of business. We still do not believe that most consumer groups want our businesses to fail, and we again call on them to join us in an honest discussion that begins with a realistic understanding of the issues posed by the CPSIA.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overcoming Obstacles and Fighting for Change

Photo by UrbanTurn

By now, many of you know that Mattel has been granted an exemption from third party testing. The CPSIA law was created because of Mattel, and they've managed to skirt it, while crafters and micro businesses making inherently lead free products pay dearly (or go out of business) to remain "legal."This is frustrating to say the least, and may have you feeling like there's nowhere to turn.

Let's all remain hopeful and keep working together to fix CPSIA. Our voices are making a huge difference. Read my CPSIA article on Etsy's blog and learn about some of the latest news on this complicated law.

One of the best things you can do to help effect change to the CPSIA is join the Handmade Toy Alliance. Let's keep fighting together for change. -Cecilia

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Dark(er) Side of the CPSIA

We have been complaining for almost a year about the excessive and unnecessary costs imposed on small businesses by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). That's a bad enough problem, but we also believe that the CPSIA will undermine children's product safety overall if it isn't changed quickly to provide regulatory flexibility based on risk analysis.

Since the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) inception in the 1970's, it has regulated safety by performing risk analysis to identify which products require the closest attention and oversight. This approach enabled the CPSC to target their limited resources to where they would do the most good.

The CPSIA changed all that. By mandating that every children's product must be tested before sale, the CPSC's focus has changed from identifying and eliminating risk to policing compliance with testing and labeling requirements.

Michael Brown, a partner in the law firm of Brown & Gidding, wrote in the ADK Project Resource Group's new Managing Product Recalls Guide about the CPSC's new mission under the CPSIA:

"The CPSIA has added several new tasks [to the CPSC], many of which most charitably can be described as marginal in the overall pursuit of product safety that will divert staff and financial resources from more important safety issues. For example, if the agency were to attempt to rigorously enforce the new lead restrictions in children’s products that the CPSIA imposes, that effort itself could consume most of the agency’s resources even though, by and large, the restrictions contribute little to the safety of children."
This is an argument we have been making for a long while. As parents and consumers, we are very concerned that the CPSIA is actually detracting from the CPSC's ability to prevent harm. When we created our list of improvements we'd like to see in the CPSIA and our Seeds of Change Document, our intent was to make the law workable both for small manufacturers and the CPSC. Without these changes, we fear that a whole new wave of unintended consequences will emerge in the form of unsafe products that may have been duly tested but were nonetheless hazardous due to a hitherto unknown design issues or an unanticipated pattern of use and abuse. The CPSC was once in a position to respond to these types of issues, but not under the CPSIA.

A perfect example is the bath seat, which posed a hazard when babies were left unattended, a danger that had nothing to do with how well designed or tested the seat was. The pre-CPSIA CPSC was able to recognize this hazard and mount a public education campaign to combat it.

Furthermore, the CPSIA provides a disincentive for manufacturers to improve the safety of their products. Toy manufacturer and CPSIA activist Rick Woldenberg has described how the CPSIA will work against improving safety by requiring a new round of tests each time a product is changed:
"It is another irony of this rule that by formalizing the requirement to retest when you change components, you actually provide a negative incentive to become more efficient or more safe. There is no incentive to change factories if you save less than the new testing costs...In addition, the law punishes companies for improving their products by imposing a testing penalty on any change. Thus, your incentive to change a product to, for example, make it better or safer is greatly reduced - you will pay (literally) for your good deed."
This is a critical concern. The children's product industry has always been rich with innovation and the best manufacturers are constantly improving their products as they learn from consumers what works and what doesn't. When a federal law actually interferes with this process, that law needs to be changed.

Of course, a lot of innovation comes not from larger established companies, but from tiny businesses like our members who figure out how to make a better mousetrap. To destroy folks like us because of the sins of Mattel doesn't improve safety, it just stifles creativity and innovation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the CPSIA

Like Dr. Strangelove's Mandrake, we too are under fire because of an over-reaction to impurities in common household substances. Most days, the looks on our faces are a lot like Mandrake's as we learn more and more about the many provisions of the CPSIA.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Storyblox Toys Closes Shop due to CPSIA

Storyblox Toys, makers of artfully painted wooden blocks made in the USA, has closed indefinitely. Here's what they wrote:

Last year, as you know, there were a string of toy recalls involving massive numbers of toys, some from major manufacturers, which had made it into our children’s hands containing toxic lead paint. This sent consumers running in droves for small manufacturers, like us, for the Christmas season last year, and it also spurred Washington into passing, very quickly, a very flawed piece of legislation known as the CPSIA.

If you haven’t heard about the CPSIA, or don’t understand what all the fuss has been about, you can read more about the legislation here: and more detailed and recent news here:

The CPSIA was written so its different statutes took effect on a schedule. At this time, the bill has come into full effect, but the CPSC – the body that’s in charge of enforcing the law – still has a “Stay of Enforcement” in place for parts of the bill, which expires at the end of this year.

Until recently, I had high hopes that this law would be amended. There have been numerous amendment attempts from various members of congress, some with a decent amount of support, but as far as I know all attempts have been killed by special committee before they even got to a vote. Now that the bill is in full effect, and we’re rapidly approaching the end of the stay of enforcement, I have been forced into making a decision I did not want to have to make.

As of today (September 17,2009), I am announcing, with deep regret, the indefinite closing of StoryBlox™.

Our toys are, and always were, safe. Every paint we’ve used is certified non-toxic and lead-free. We have documentation certifying every finish and glue that we use, as well. Unfortunately, none of this matters. The CPSIA legislation will require that we get a separate, destructive, 3rd party test on every single end-product toy we sell – regardless of the components, regardless of the cost. For a company that runs small productions, the costs of testing are so high that there is no way to cover them, let alone make any profit selling the products. For a company like ours, which does most of its business in custom, one-of-a-kind toys, the testing process would destroy each product before it could get to the customer that ordered it.

We do not mass produce our products, for that our customers love us, and for that congress has made it impossible for us to continue selling our toys without breaking the law. Some small businesses are taking the “just keep selling things until they catch you” approach, but I am not comfortable with that attitude. Regardless of my personal feelings towards this law, it is still law. Even if I could get my mind around the idea of ignoring a law because I disagree with it, the fines in place for ignoring the impossible requirements of this law are astronomical.

The way the law reads right now, a company selling a perfectly safe toy – which complies with all lead, phthalates, small parts and flammability requirements – that has not labeled the toy correctly, or cannot provide a proper 3rd party testing certificate for that toy, can still be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars, at the whim of the CPSC. As a small business without the resources of a major corporation, we cannot afford the testing, or the risk of fines for not testing. As a disabled woman living on a meager income, I certainly cannot take this risk.

I had originally planned to keep our business open, selling only our promotional products, and possibly some or all of our keepsakes (which are not aimed at children), while waiting on the law to be amended. After much deliberation, however, I have decided that I am not comfortable doing this. StoryBlox™ was founded on educational blocks; education has always been our main focus, and a StoryBlox™ without educational toys is just not the same company. I would rather shut down for now, and wait on the necessary changes, than compromise because of a bad law.

I hope that this is not the end for us. Hopefully, in a year or two, common sense will win out, and the law will be amended so that it actually protects our children, while encouraging, rather than destroying, small businesses like ours that have been producing safe products from the get-go. If and when that happens, hopefully I will be in a place where I can re-open the business.

I sincerely apologize to our loyal customers, who were looking forward to purchasing our toys this Christmas season and beyond. I would like to encourage all of you to talk to your representatives and let them know how this is affecting you as a consumer.

Thank you for your years of support.

Tammy Bowles
StoryBlox™ Creator
September 17, 2009

An HTA Pop Quiz

See if you can identify either of these two tiny companies, both of whom make children's products:

Three friends launch their company out of a garage in Southern California. Their first products are picture frames, but they developed a side business in dollhouse furniture made from picture frame scraps...


Three partners in New York make toys out of heavy steel parts and ponderosa pine, which resists splintering and held up well to heavy use. The details and charm are added with colorful labels based on characters from one of the partner's children's books. They took 16 of their wooden toys to the American International Toy Fair in New York City and they quickly become a success...

Wait--don't bother searching through our list of over 300 business members, even though these descriptions might describe many of our member businesses who make their children's products in their garages or basement.

Actually, the first paragraph describes Mattel when it began in 1945.

The second paragraph describes the early years of Fisher-Price (now wholly owned by Mattel) in the 1930s.

What would have happened to Mattel or Fisher-Price if the CPSIA had been in effect during their early years? Certainly the early Mattel might have redoubled their focus on unregulated picture frames rather than invest in testing their tiny batches of dollhouse furniture. And Fisher-Price would likely have reconsidered their business plans if they knew that every buyer at Toy Fair would need to see their certificate of compliance.

This is one of the most compelling reasons to nurture and support American small businesses. We are the future of the American economy. Small businesses bring innovation and an opportunity for growth that big business can't match. And, although Mattel and Fisher Price lost their moral compass in the many decades since their humble beginnings, their failures had been providing opportunities for small manufacturers as parents sought out toys made with integrity. But the CPSIA took all that away and left Mattel smelling like roses.

If anything, Congress needs to learn the lesson that harming small business without cause is like throwing away the future.

HTA Blog Upgrade

But wait, there's more. For more HTA blog posts, visit

We also blog at