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Commission delays lead testing in toys

Shoppers check over toys before purchasing at Toys 'R' Us in Times Square in New York City.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

TESS VIGELAND: Toy makers and toy sellers have dodged a huge regulatory bullet. . . sort of. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is delaying new rules that would force toy companies, big and small, to test for lead and other toxic materials. The rules were supposed to go into effect a week from tomorrow. But now there's another year to comply.

Marketplace entrepreneurship reporter Mitchell Hartman has been following this story from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Nice to talk to you, Mitchell.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: Thanks, Tess.

VIGELAND: Why the sudden change?

HARTMAN: Well, you know, when this law was passed there wasn't a person in Congress who wanted to be voting for lead poisoning by irresponsible toymakers. But then the Bush administration's Consumer Product Safety Commission started trying to actually write the rules. They were slow. The rules were entirely unclear. Businesses still don't know what exactly they're supposed to test and how to label it. So, Congress and the bureaucrats were under huge pressure from businesses, basically for a top to bottom redo.

I mean, hand-crafters at places like Etsy.com were saying they were going to sell off their entire stock and shut down. I talked to one small toy company, it's called Accoutrements -- they're responsible for the likes of something called the Sigmund Freud action figure and something called the yodeling pickle.

VIGELAND: The yodeling pickle? OK.

HARTMAN: Yeah, everybody needs a yodeling pickle. Mark Pahlow is the CEO of this company.

MARK PAHLOW: We've stopped all new development of any new toys and we're in the process of discontinuing about 200 products because the lab testing is going to cost more than the products themselves.

VIGELAND: So toy makers are obviously breathing a sigh of relief at this point?

HARTMAN: They feel like their concerns about costs and over-regulation are being heard for sure. They still can't make or sell anything that has too much lead in it and those lead limits still go into effect February 10.

VIGELAND: So for business owners like Pahlow, this is, as we said, a bit of a relief. What about for parents who now have no guarantee over the next year that the toys are safe?

HARTMAN: Well, that's right. They don't. That said, toy makers and toy sellers are still not allowed to sell anything that has too much lead in it. They just don't have to test and certify yet.

VIGELAND: All right, Mitchell, what's next?

HARTMAN: Well, this is businesses' best chance to get permanent exemptions in this law. They'd like to see a bunch of materials waived from testing -- wool, natural wood. They'd like to see not having to test final products, if the components have already tested lead-free. They'll be weighing in on Congress for sure. Congress is Democratic, likely to be friendly to consumer-safety advocates and children's health people. But, they are hearing from their constituents they don't want to see toy makers and toy stores shut down either.

VIGELAND: Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman, joining us from Portland, Ore. Thanks so much.

HARTMAN: By the way, Tess, do you want to hear the yodeling pickle?

VIGELAND: Oh, Mitchell, do I have to?

HARTMAN: Well, you know it may disappear from the marketplace and then you'd be sorry.

[sound of yodeling pickle toy]

VIGELAND: I think that's enough. Thank you very much. And thank you to Mitchell Hartman, joining us from Portland.

HARTMAN: You're welcome, Tess.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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Folks, I understand the concerns over the costs of testing, but I have a feeling that those who would be most affected by lead testing are not shopping around for the best testing deals. I myself am considering opening a lab for lead testing, and I can tell you that I would be offering some rock bottom fees for such testing to cater to small business.

I would like to hear your concerns and ideas about affordable lead testing. Feel free to contact me at Motoyasu1334@hotmail.com

I can't believe NPR has stooped to the level of trash journalism. NPR?? I'm beyond disappointed. How can I trust anymore of your stories going forward?

The CPSIA is a knee-jerk reaction legislated by a DEMOCRATICALLY CONTROLLED Congress. Let's not blame Bush. He wasn't down on the floor with a pen in his hand. 420+ Congressmen were and only ONE voted against this disaster. His name? Ron Paul! So, if you want to bring partisan politics into this, put the blame where it goes. I keep hearing about Bush-this and Bush-that, but we voted in a DEMOCRAT Majority in Congress OVER TWO YEARS AGO and everyone seems to forget that.

But back to the problem at hand. Why is there a total blackout in main stream media on this subject? Forbes did an article, but how about CNN? Fox? MSNBC? CBS? ABC? Today (Feb 10th) has been declared National Bankruptcy Day due to this law. You'd think with an economy like ours is at the moment that the Doom and Gloom of such a story would be right up the networks' alley, but no. Not a word. Not a whisper. Except an antedoctal story by NPR about Yodelling Pickles. Go figure.

The piece trivializes the problem, and misses the major point: the vast majority of products for children do not contain any lead at all, and based on the raw materials from which they are made do not and could not contain measurable levels of lead at all. Yet the law as written requires every production run of every item to be re-tested, with zero improvement in product safety. This is insane!

Lead does not magically appear in the wooden toy cut in the shape of a cat when the toy in the shape of a dog cut from the same batch of wood tests lead-free. Lead is not conjured out of thin air when two different books are printed on the same paper with the same ink on the same printing press.

The law was written by people with no understanding of how things are made (there's a great show on cable, btw). For example, books are usually not printed one title at a time; the printer lays out several book on wide rolls of paper, and prints them all at once. The paper is cut and the books separated then bound, usually in the same batch. Yet the law as written requires each book to be tested separately, just because pages 1-40 are one book, and pages 41-80 are another book, rather than a single 80-page book.

For children's clothing, each different size of a garment must be tested individually, even though it is identical in every way except size to others made at the same time from the same materials, just because the scissors cut the same bolt of cloth in a different place.

The law applies to every product intended for children younger than 13 years. That's junior high school age. The law lumps together school equipment for 8th graders and teething rings for infants, brass musical instruments and infant formula bottles. It makes no sense.

More to the point, it does not increase the safety of children's products and it comes at tremendous cost to our children's education and to our economy exactly at the worst possible time.

This is an extremely important topic that you have treated ridiculously lightly. Please do a comprehensive look at the realities of this law (how about libraries closed to kids?! Check the ALA site.) Did you know that testing is required for ANYTHING for kids 12 and under? Even things inherently lead free? This is not just about toys!!!! DO YOUR RESEARCH!

Thank you for covering this most important topic. If you cover this again please mentioned that this law applies to any and all items for children 12 and under, not just toys. Clothes, blankets, baby bibs, stuffed animals even books will be affected.
Can you imagine no children's books in the library?

At this point, I do not know what is worse, lead poising or ignorance?
I have never listened to public radio before, but as far as anyone has told me, it was suppose to be a more intelligent source of information. This was a terrible cover of the story and did not even touch that the CPSIA is for ALL CHILDREN'S PRODUCTS. I do not understand why the interviewers would not even skim the CPSIA text if they were to be conducting an interview? Just a brief skim of the cpsc.gov website would have made the questions less asinine. Please, avoid the term TOYS which is only one type of goods for children.
I am tired of the media, excluding Forbes, making light of this situation without bothering to look at the CPSIA text.
I am so embarrassed to be a part of a society that would take a pickle toy and scoff at the real plight from hard working, creative people.
Most of us would lead test our products all day just to prove how lead free they are, but the consumers will not be able to afford the price for their tested, certified, compliant finished good. I think this because most customers, that buy the average box store goods, complain about the prices of “green” and “eco-friendly” products now.
Right now, we have superior and wonderful children’s products. If they were deadly or harmful, and I have been sewing since I was 5 years old, I would not be here today to write about it.

Finally, I would like to address this statement, “VIGELAND: So for business owners like Pahlow, this is, as we said, a bit of a relief. What about for parents who now have no guarantee over the next year that the toys are safe?”

The CPSIA does not guarantee that CHILDREN’S PRODUCTS are “safe” or state that they are unsafe now.
Testing for lead does not guarantee “safe” just because lead is toxic.
What? Am I an idiot? How could I say such a reckless statement?
Because, testing for lead does not cover quality, breakability, practicality, flammability, or any other possible issues.
Because, lead is in items we use everyday. A DVD is used daily by almost everyone and contains lead.
Because testing for lead in certain children’s products does not minimize the exposure to lead from drinking water (20% over a lifetime) or other household items.

Stating that testing for lead guarantees safety, is like stating that taking your temperature is a guarantee to never have the common cold.

When did "Journalism-Lite" become NPR's forte? I would have hoped your piece would have looked at issues such as: - The steady rise in artisan businesses and how laws like the CPSIA are almost solely written for the mass-market industrial economy without regard for artisan and micro businesses; - The fact that the current proposed economic stimulus package includes a "Buy American" clause, while at the same time the unintended consequences of the CPSIA puts an estimated annual $700 million of AMERICAN handmade children's products at risk of extinction. - How a few reasonable amendments to the CPSIA could make children's products safer while also meeting the needs of American artisans and small businesses. (You know, the very people that parents turned to for safe children's products amidst the '07 and '08 recalls). And, please NPR, stay out of the cheese business! The banter about the yodeling pickle came off as cheezy journalism mixed with a a not-well-pulled-off attempt at adding "entertainment value". Ick!

This *cute* story really trivialized the problems with the CPSIA. It pertains to ALL children's products, not only toys. Also, making it *cute/funny* doesn't do justice to the issue. NPR, you bombed.

Thank you for bringing this CPSIA issue to the attention of our community - but you left too much information out. You did a disservice by making it seem an isolated problem just to niche toy manufacturers. This issue is MUCH larger than just handmade toys. The CPSIA mandates that ANY PRODUCT intended for a child of 12 or younger be tested, not just earth-friendly handmade toys. This means that books in the public library, school supplies, school microscopes, clothes, bicycles, & toys all be tested. This should concern more than just parents of small children. The individual families will pay an increased price for consumer goods, the families will have a larger tax burden to meet school & library costs, the landfills will be filled with the untested goods which will be illegal to sell, and tens of thousands of people in cottage industries will be unemployed. Yes, I agree that huge companies shouldn't reap obscene profits at the cost of dumping nasty chemicals into our children's products. These are the companies that should be targeted by this legislation & severely punished/fined for noncompliance. I make children's costumes, clothes, & doll clothes to sell on ebay & Etsy. Under this CPSIA, I must have each & every component of each different item tested (which will be a huge problem with only 18 testing places in the US). So if my $30 dress has 3 fabrics, 2 thread colors, elastic, a zipper, & lace, add on to your cost $70 per component for the lead testing & $350 per component for the phthalates testing. This brings the price tag to a whopping $3360 + $30 original price =$3390. It will be illegal for me to sell my products without testing each one (which by the way destroys the product, so much for my one of a kinds!). And will it be illegal for Goodwill to sell any children's items that are untested? Or for your local library to have any children's items, incl. books, which are untested. See the snowball rolling here? I urge you to be more responsible, to give this sweeping legislation the full negative reporting it deserves. While the intent of this legislation was to keep lead from poisoning our children, the legislation itself is very poorly written & ignorant of the reality imposed by such mandated testing.

I usually love NPR for it's well researched, on-target stories, but this time you have so far missed the boat as to be sort of unbelievable.
This law is much more far reaching than you would have us believe. It affects EVERYTHING! Not just toys. The stay is a reprive in theory, but in reality no retail store is going to accept goods that have not been tested at this time.
This is NOT the fault of the CPSC. They are charged with implementing the law as written. Only Congress has the ability to change it. Senator Jim DeMint is intrroducing a technical amendment to the law today. A story about that and how it would help out plight would be a good start in making this up to the thousands of loyal listeners that you have really, really failed with this report.
Here are two well written pieces about the issue.

http://www.forbes.com/entrepreneurs/2009/01/15/toys-lead-retail-ent-law-...

http://www.forbes.com/opinions/2009/01/22/cpsia-waxman-cpsc-oped-cx_wo_0...

This is not a joke. This is the livelihood of thousands of Americans. Please treat this issue with the respect it deserves.

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