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.