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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Safety commission approves lead-testing rule exemptions

By Alana Semuels
Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has tentatively approved exemptions to new lead-testing rules that could have forced makers of handmade toys and thrift stores to junk unsold merchandise or even go out of business.

If formally adopted, the changes approved on a first vote yesterday would grant exemptions to last year's Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which seeks to ensure that products for children do not contain dangerous amounts of lead.

As written, the act requires merchants and manufacturers to test all products intended for children 12 and under for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable.

Large manufacturers and retailers say the cost of testing will not be a burden. But small businesses, such as handmade-toy shops and thrift stores, say the requirement would force them to spend tens of thousands of dollars to test products such as clothing, in which the threat of lead is almost nonexistent. Many thrift stores said they would be forced to stop selling children's clothing or close altogether. The two-member commission (the third seat is vacant) voted tentatively to exempt the following:

  • Items that contain lead parts that a child cannot access.

  • Clothing, toys and other goods that are made of natural materials such as cotton and wood.

  • Electronics that are technically impossible to make without lead.

    The commission also tentatively approved a rule that clarifies how it determines exclusions from the law.

    The vote opens a 30-day public comment period that will begin when notice of the rules are printed in the Federal Register. Interested parties can submit comments by signing up to receive e-mail from the CPSC, which will keep them aware of the next steps.

    No final rules will be approved until after Feb. 10, which is the date the testing rules go into effect.

    That means retailers and manufacturers who sell untested children's merchandise would technically be in violation of the new law starting Feb. 10. Whether federal regulators will enforce the rules which might entail inspections at thousands of secondhand stores and toy shops nationwide is another question.

    "The CPSC is an agency with limited resources and tremendous responsibility to protect the safety of families," said Scott Wolfson, a commission spokes-man. "Our focus will be on those areas we can have the biggest impact and address the most dangerous products."