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CPSIA Update

It’s been almost a year since I looked into the new legal requirements introduced by the CPSIA requiring lead testing in products manufactured for children.

To summarize: among other things, the new law was going to require those who manufacture products for children to certify that their product met certain minimal lead and phthalate limits. It would later require manufacturers to provide documentation from third-party laboratories that their products met these limits.

Certificate of Conformity

Lab fees for testing these products were piling up potentially into the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. Not a huge dent for large, multi-national toy companies (whose products, incidentally, kicked off the lead scares leading to passing of the legislation), but crippling for small, home-based businesses, libraries, and thrift shops, not to mention chilling for woodworkers who supplemented their income at craft fairs or donated toys to hospitals and charities.

After much grassroots uproar and a lot of densely-worded press releases from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), who were charged with interpreting then enforcing the legislation, the timeline for 3rd-party testing compliance was pushed back a year to give manufacturers some relief as well as to give time to sort out just how such sweeping changes would be implemented with the least damage to small business.

This Christmas, Santa (grammy and poppy) brought my son Parker his very first Certificate of Conformity, shown above. This particular certificate came in the box along with a wooden easel. Melissa & Doug is a toy company that my wife and I really like because they make sturdy, wooden, educational toys. You can see from the certificate that they are already complying with the 3rd-party testing standard, listing the independent lab doing the testing along with a reference number for the test report.

As this was my first and only encounter with the CPSIA in the real-world (despite the fact that we have a 3-year-old with overly-generous grandparents providing a constant influx of toys), I was curious to see what was the state of the new law.

(Coincidentally, woodworking blogger extraordinaire, Tom Iovino, did a very nice writeup on the CPSIA recently. Put a little clicky clicky here to see it.)

Thankfully, the CPSC has recently taken some positive steps to deal with the unintended consequences of the sweeping legislation. This Dec. 18 press release from them sums it up, but here are the 2 major points:

1) Deadline extension: The stay on providing certification and 3rd-party testing on certain items has been extended one more year until Feb 10, 2011. This does not mean that manufacturers won’t be held accountable to the legal repercussions if their products are found to be in violation of the legal limits of lead and phthalate content, but it does mean that it won’t be necessary to include documentation of expensive 3rd-party testing. Nancy Nord, a CPSC commissioner explains further in her new blog.

2) Component testing: The CPSC is adopting an interim enforcement policy that will allow component testing/certification. If manufacturers can provide documentation that the components that they use in their products meet the requirements, they don’t have to have a sample, finished product from each product line tested themselves. This is significant for woodworkers since the bulk of their product—wood— being a natural component, is exempted. Add a finish, however, and the entire product must be tested. But under a component testing policy, if your finish manufacturer provides proper proof that it conforms with the CPSIA’s third-party testing requirement, you might be off the hook for expensive lab fees.

(Note: the lead requirements for children’s products with finishes were not among those “certain” items that were covered by the deadline extension, so those are subject to the testing requirements now. However with component testing, the burden of the testing fee can now potentially be shifted to the finish manufacturer, and it sounds like they are working hard to supply these. Tom’s blog, mentioned above, documents a conversation he had with Minwax on the topic.)

In some ways, it is simply one more stay of execution with another looming deadline, but the conversations from the CPSC have increasingly been directed at small businesses, crafters, and hobbyists, an obvious reaction to the overwhelming grassroots attention that this legislation has received.

Lucas Peters @ WOOD Magazine

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4 Responses to “CPSIA Update”

  1. Your comment above “…if your finish manufacturer provides proper proof that it conforms with the CPSIA’s third-party testing requirement, you might be off the hook for expensive lab fees….” is encouraging but hardly reassuring. Can’t we get something out of the CSPC more strongly worded than “might”?

  2. Is there a listing of CPSIA-compliant wood finish manufacturers somewhere?

  3. @ Tom,

    Sorry. Personally, I’m not comfortable going any further than “might.” (Especially in the realm of legal advice. I can’t emphasize enough that I Am Not A Lawyer.) Unfortunately, the entire thing has been a quagmire of vague, difficult-to-parse, or cautiously worded statements. Not that they’re not trying. The vibe I get from talking to the CPSC is that they were handed a very broad, very undefined law. Because they are an enforcing agency rather than a legislative body, they are doing their best to clarify the law, repeatedly seeking advice from Congress and making allowances as best they can within the letter of that law. Unfortunately, there’s no telling how long the “clarification” stage may last before enforcement begins in earnest (parts keep getting continuously bumped) so …

    You “might” be off the hook for expensive up-front 3rd-party testing, but you certainly won’t be off the hook if your product is found after-the-fact to have over-the-limit lead content in it.

    While you might feel that you’re off the hook if your finish manufacturer supplies testing data, you also might have used a screw, a dollop of glue, a hinge, etc. Can you demonstrate that these components have been lab-tested as well?

    At the moment, the component testing stuff is an interim policy, meaning it might be changed in the future. (Or it might be adopted as the permanent solution, who knows?)

    You might be off the hook if you’re giving the items away charitably. But you might not. Some interpret the law as applying only to interstate commerce. Thus charitable donations are excepted. Some interpret the law to mean all manufactured products fall under its umbrella. I’ve even heard reports allegedly quoting different employees/officers of the CPSC which–you guessed it–they disagree with each other.

    A mighty lot of mights, I know.


  4. @ Joanna,
    Not that I’ve seen. I’m sure someone will start compiling something soon enough.

    For now, you’ll have to go to the individual manufacturers to see if they can provide certification that their products have been tested by a 3rd-party lab.

    Tom’s blog (linked above) has contact info for some of the larger finish manufacturers.


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