Carolyn Harris
January 12, 2009

  Pthalates are the substance in plastic that makes it pliable and is used in many children’s toys, from pacifiers and teething rings to bath toys.

In a time of devastating job losses and shrinking consumer spending, new retroactive rules and regulations concerning the manufacture and selling of goods for children 12 and under forces manufacturers and retailers to test items for lead and pthalates. Pthalates are the substance in plastic that makes it pliable and is used in many children’s toys, from pacifiers and teething rings to bath toys; it can leach out and cause endocrine system disruption in children because it is an estrogen-mimicking chemical. Lead, of course, is a recognized toxin that can cause damage to the brain, kidneys and blood just by simple absorption through the skin.

While no one wants children to be poisoned by lead and most scientists agree that pthalates are harmful, these regulations that go into effect on February 10, 2009, will have the consequence of shutting down small manufacturers and retailers.

Signed into law August 14, 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Act (HR 4040) (.pdf) requires independent testing of each item in the product at a cost of $100 and up for each component. The regulations exempt items that contain lead that the child cannot reach, electronics that cannot be manufactured without lead and items made of cotton or wood such as clothing and other items. Larger manufacturers will not be unduly burdened by the regulations because they won’t have to test each individual item, but can “batch test,” however, individuals who manufacture items for children will be put out of business since the scheme is cost-prohibitive.

One entrepreneur manufacturers cloth diapers and uses two different fabrics, Velcro and metal snaps. The new regulations would force her to pay $375 test each combination of components and would effectively force her to shut her business down. And she is not alone. Other entrepreneurs who manufacture everything from jewelry to hair items to clothing would have to pay for the testing and also would be facing bankruptcy.

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a clarification to the new regulations that exempt retailers of second-hand items like Goodwill Industries. This will spare other smaller consignment shops and those Americans who are trying to make ends meet by selling on eBay and Craig’s List. As the economy crumbles around us, more and more people are turning to consignment and thrift stores to purchase necessary items from household goods to clothing for themselves and their children.

The US governmental agencies are notorious for allowing products that have not been proven safe to enter the market because they use the standard “proven to harm” instead of the European standard of “proven safe.” This of course has resulted in the manufacture, import and consequent recall of large amounts of items such as tainted toys from China, pharmaceuticals that kill or cause permanent damage to consumers.

This latest well meaning but wrong-headed stunt by the federal government is a classic example of not thinking things through. Congress loves to portray itself as if it cares about the American tax-payers, especially children, but routinely passes laws that harm those same. This law is no exception. This is the dysfunctional Nanny State in action: waiting until too many children have been poisoned by lead in cheap Chinese toys after NAFTA and CAFTA effectively shipped American jobs overseas, then enacting a broad new law that has calamitous consequences for those Americans who are trying to fill a void with quality hand-made products.

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