Who indeed, and that’s the problem. On August 14, 2008, President Bush signed into law the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). There are two main portions (or “titles”) of the Act: Title I–Children’s Product Safety and Title II–Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform. Within Title I are eight sections, two of which are concerned with certain chemicals that might be found in children’s products. Section 101 regulates the amount of lead that can be contained in these products, and Section 108 regulates certain compounds called phthalates, used as softeners in plastics.
No doubt in response to the several scares over lead in Chinese-made toys, the lead regulations provide for a phased-in tightening of the allowable lead starting on February 10, 2009 and proceeding through August, 2011. A drastic lowering applies to permissible lead paint content from 0.06 percent to 0.009 percent (effective August 14, 2009). This level could be lowered after further studies are conducted.
Significantly, since clothing is considered a children’s product, the thrift stores and resale shops howled in protest.
“We will have to lock our doors and file for bankruptcy,” said Shauna Sloan, founder of Salt Lake City-based franchise Kid to Kid, which sells used children’s clothing in 75 stores across the country and had planned to open a store in Santa Clara, CA this year.
Carol Vaporis, owner of Duck Duck Goose Consignment in New Port Richey, FL, said her store stocks barely used brand-name clothing from places such as Limited Too and Gymboree. “We really provide a service to the community to help people get clothes for their children they otherwise couldn’t afford,” she said. In addition, families who turn in clothing get a portion of the sales price.
As with so many laws that are introduced to “protect” the public, it was beginning to look like CPSIA would be hurting people who needed to purchase used clothing, and people who might generate a little income by selling this clothing to the stores—in other words, those of limited means. Then there is the matter of shutting down the thrift shops themselves, many of which are raising money for charity.
Fortunately, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency that will have to enforce the law, published a ruling on January 8, 2009, that provides, in part:
The new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that children’s products made after February 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban. Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.
But, there is still a gray area, as the ruling continues:
The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
Typically, lead in clothing can appear in buttons, charms, and appliques that have been added to fabric. Presumably, if the resellers avoid these, they will be OK. At least, the burden of testing has been removed from these small operators.
It might have been a whole lot easier to simply ban lead content buttons, charms, and appliques, along with lead-containing jewelry. As it happens, in the most celebrated and tragic case, a four-year-old Minnesota boy died in February, 2006 after ingesting a lead charm, that fell off a pair of Reebok athletic shoes. The charm in question contained an unbelievable 99.1% lead. Subsequent testing of the same type of charms showed that they could range from 0.07% lead all the way up, and this is apparently typical of cheap metallic jewelry items.
The ban on phthalates is controversial, to say the least. Lunatic Greenie activists who were originally trying to get vinyl products banned—but then gave up since there are far too many essential medical applications—set their sights on phthalates, since they are necessary for the production of vinyl plastics.
It is well worth noting that many eminent toxicologists—including Michael Kamrin and Robert Golden—are by no means convinced that there are any safety issues with phthalates—one of the most studied group of chemical compounds in history. More than that, the CPSC’s own scientists had already done work confirming that phthalates are a non-issue, and the agency is far from pleased with that provision of the CPSIA.
To make matters worse, the National Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit in December, 2008. requesting that the phthalates provision apply retroactively to inventory on hand as of February 10, 2009. Previously, the CPSC had issued a ruling that the phthalates ban is NOT retroactive. Otherwise, hundreds of millions of dollars in inventory would be in limbo, resulting in higher costs to consumers, during a recession.
All this for compounds that have never been shown to have any ill effects on humans in the stated applications. Rather, certain rodent studies suggested that they might be endocrine disruptors—IN RODENTS, at substantially higher concentrations.
However, rats and mice do not equal humans! For example, it is well established that rodent-based tests for certain thyroid effects may not be relevant for extrapolation to humans due to substantial species differences in thyroid function. Numerous drugs in common use produce adverse thyroid effects in rodents, but not in humans, including CNS-acting drugs (phenobarbital, benzodiazapines), calcium channel blockers (nicardipine, bepridil), antihistamines (doxylamine succinate) and steroids (spironolactone). For these drugs, a listing of possible side effects does not even include adverse effects on the thyroid.
Furthermore, extensive data exists on the in utero effects of DES (a very potent estrogen) on humans, which, at the very least, imply that massive exposure to phthalates—at thousands of times the levels proposed— would be necessary to produce adverse effects.
But, who needs science when muddleheaded officeholders, led by misinformed and biased staffers, think they know what’s best for us?