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.


  1. And both articles make me want to cry!

    Who makes me madder, Congress or the CPSC? At this point, I would have to say it's a toss up.

    And every "unsafe" book (that I cannot now sell) that comes through my store makes me even madder/sadder!

  2. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for posting a link to Chairman Tenenbaum's article in Product Safety Forum -- a **FREE** service of Product Safety Letter.

    Thousands of readers rely on these **FREE** stories, which are written by top experts in the product safety field. (That's right **FREE** tips, advice and analysis from folks who normally charge what some might call "ridiculously expensive" fees.)

    Check out the Forum archives where you'll find scores of **FREE** stories that help bring better understanding of CPSIA and other CPSC-related issues

    Best regards,

    Sean Oberle, Publisher
    Product Safety Forum -- FREE
    Product Safety Daily -- FREE
    Product Safety Letter

  3. Sean, thanks for the clarification. Still, we'd really like to read a lot of the articles indexed in the Product Safety Letter, but there's no way our little non-profit advocacy organization can afford a subscription. Is there any way for us to access this material? Your October 5 issue is full of information that would be highly relevant to us.

  4. Send me an email, and we might be able to work something out.

    seanoberle at productsafetlyletter dot com