Tag: phthalates

Sensible Principles, Fixes and Action for CPSC

Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, is testifying this morning before a Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee hearing, “Oversight of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Product Safety in the Holiday Season.”

Although speaking on behalf of the apparel and footwear industry, Steve’s prepared remarks are right in line with the points the National Association of Manufacturers has raised since the 2008 passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). We’re glad he reminded the committee members of manufacturers’ diligent efforts to ensure the safety of consumer products, and of industry’s support for additional funding and staffing for the CPSC during the congressional debates.

Still, there can be no doubt the legislation does not comport with the real word. In other words, what an expensive, jobs-killing message. From Lamar:

It goes without saying that industry, consumer advocacy groups, bloggers, the media, and various other stakeholders across the spectrum have become more engaged than ever in product safety.

Regrettably, the legislation also mandated a series of controversial changes to the nation’s product safety rules that have created endless confusion, extensive burdens, huge costs, job losses, and irreparable damage to the business community. In many cases, these adverse consequences have come without improvements in product safety or public health. Among other things, the law mandated very strict lead and phthalate content restrictions. It required certifications of compliance for all consumer products for all safety standards, mandating third party testing for those standards involving children’s products (defined as 12 and under). It created a public database of product safety incidents. It authorized enforcement by state attorneys general and created whistleblower provisions. While many of these provisions reflect good intentions, the language of the CPSIA makes many of them difficult, if not impossible, to implement and enforce. Tight deadlines, rigid definitions, retroactively applied standards, requirements that do not reflect risk, and a “one size fits all approach” are all among the many problems that have made CPSIA implementation
challenging.

His testimony addresses one important issue that would make most people’s eyes glaze over, lead substrate. While “consumer activists” can speak broadly and high-mindedly about risks, threats and safety, manufacturers must tackle practical considerations making consumer products.

Steve closes with eight recommendations on product safety, many of which will require Congressional action in 2011.

  • Ensure that all product safety decisions are based on risk and supported
    by data.
  • Give the CPSC more flexibility to interpret CPSIA
  • Ensure that new regulations do not contradict existing ones.
  • Ensure prospective application of all rules
  • Establish deadlines that permit and encourage compliance.
  • Publicize all pending regulatory developments
  • Avoid “One Size Fits All Approaches”
  • There is more to the CPSC than CPSIA
  • Stephen Lamar’s prepared statement is here, and the hearing is being webcast here.

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    CPSIA Update: Priorities and Perspectives at The Washington Post

    The Washington Post today editorializes which recites the difficulties the Consumer Product Safety Commission faces in adequately overseeing the safety of imports from China. The editorial, “Teething Tiger — The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a ways to go to exercise its full power,” is OK, certainly not objectionable, and comes in response to last weeks GAO report, “Consumer Safety: Better Information and Planning Would Strengthen CPSC’s Oversight of Imported Products.” Agreed.

    What’s striking is the concern the editorial shows toward the agency, as if the CPSC were the constituency the Post is most interested in. If only the opinion page would show as much solicitude toward the U.S. citizens harmed by the excesses of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

    The Post had a good, informative article at the end of March, “Rough-and-Tumble Sales at Gymboree — but What’s to Blame?,” detailing the impact of the CPSIA’s anti-lead absolutism and phthalates restrictions on the children’s clothing retailer. The company took a $6 million write-off in the fourth quarter 2008 because of the impact on inventory, and consumers, too are affected.

    Still, customers can’t help but notice that the glitter is gone at Gymboree. After pulling products and reworking styles, many of the remaining pieces lack the bling that Gymboree is known for and for which it can charge a higher price than competitors. Some of the merchandise that survived often had no mate and had to be marked down. For instance, moms might not have been able to find the matching top or purse that went along with detailed pants.

    In March, in the Health Tab, “Book Dealers Told to Get The Lead Out; Libraries Resist Ban on Potentially Toxic Books.”
    And there was the Dec. 21, 2008, article, “Toymakers Assail Costs of New Law; How Consumer Protections Will Be Implemented Is Onerous, Manufacturers Say.” But before that, there was mostly stories about safety threats leading to the legislation and some beating up on the CPSC for commissioners’ traveling on the industry’s dime. We give the Post credit for reporting on the problems, a task New York Times editors have yet to bother with.

    Editorially? We find this one from February 29, 2008: “More Safeguards; The Senate should pass consumer product safety legislation,” and recall others of the sort.

    But there’s been no editorial offering retrospective or corrective insights about the CPSIA’s terrible harm to small businesses and consumers around the country, or noting how the law has hurt thrift stores and the people who shop at them, or effectively banned on pre-1985 children’s books.

    It’s as the Post considers its audience to the Congress that overwhelmingly passed the law and the government actors charged with implementing it.

    Maybe if the GAO does a report on the CPSIA’s excesses, we’ll see something on the opinion page. Nothing along those lines, unfortunately.

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    CPSIA Update: Day of Destruction Arrives, or is it Day 365?

    From The Washington Times editorial page, “No more rhinestone cowboys“:

    New regulations taking effect today make an awful new law even worse. Government is putting huge new burdens on retailers and manufacturers already reeling from a bad economy.

    Treasured children’s books published before 1985 already have been removed by the thousands from library shelves and second-hand stores. Also suddenly illegal are many plastics used in children’s apparel (such as diapers) and toys. Rhinestones are definitely out, by specific bureaucratic edict. So are lots of children’s bikes and all-terrain vehicles. Even clothing zippers are in peril.

    Charities are taking it on the chin, with the Salvation Army alone estimating that it will be forced to destroy $100 million of inventory and significantly cut back some of its social services.

    The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which went into effect a year ago, today reduces the limit for lead content of 600 parts per million in children’s products — as the Times accurately describes, “an absurdly low threshold” — to 300 parts per million.

    In addition, the requirement that all children’s products include a permanent tracking label becomes effective today.

    More from Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, in Roll Call, “Paper Is the Right Choice for Clothes and Shoes: Marking One Year of the CPSIA“: “Crystals and rhinestones on children’s clothing, shoes, princess costumes, dance uniforms, cell phones, jewelry, accessories and eyeglasses are now banned hazardous substances despite a CPSC staff determination that this ‘bling’ does not pose a health risk to children.”

    Wall Street Journal editorial, “Consumer Product Destruction.”

    And for many more details about the harm the CPSIA has done to consumers, manufacturers, and common sense, see Rick Woldenberg’s passionately expressed and experienced reporting at his CPSIA blog.

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    CPSIA Update: From Manufacturers of All Different Sorts

    From the Dallas Business Journal, a report on the recent House Small Business subcommittee hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, “Product safety law too costly, manufacturers say“:

    For Swimways Corp., a Virginia Beach, Va.-based manufacturer of water products, the problem isn’t lead, it’s phthalates — compounds often used to soften vinyl. The law banned the sale of children’s products that contained phthalates, even if the parts containing phthalates are not accessible.

    Because the law made the new phthalates standard retroactive, Swimways was stuck with inventory it couldn’t sell. Retailers returned or destroyed Swimways merchandise and charged Swimways for the expense. The law cost the 70-employee company more than $1 million, said Anthony Vittone, vice president and general counsel.

    Also cited are the experiences of McCubbin Hosiery, an Oklahoma City manufacturer, and Starbright Baby Teething Giraffes in Boalsburg, Pa.

    And separately, from San Francisco, commentary on the costs of testing from Dawn, a San Francisco Bay Area designer who creates in 100 percent natural, locally-made peapod-shaped baby sleep sacks — Violet’s Peapods, named after her daughter. From AmendtheCpsia.com:

    If I were to have each batch of my current inventory tested by CPSC-approved third party, I would have to pay $57 per print and batch for 3rd party lead testing, and $278 per print & batch for phthalates, totaling $4,690 altogether.  If I were to increase my price point based on cost increases to cover this 3rd party testing, I’d have to raise my price point by $19.14 each.  My precious baby sleepsacks are barely selling at $53.95, so charging $73.09 each in these tough economic times would surely put me out of business.

    My only other alternative would be to liquidate my inventory completely, selling it for half it’s worth (and losing $13, 218 in the process).  Once I’d get the cash flow from that, I’d be able to start up a single batch of sleepsacks (ONE PRINT).  I’d then have it 3rd party tested for lead and phthalates, and increase the price point to $57.95.  With an increased price point and only one style/print in my line, I could hardly remain competitive in the marketplace!

    If the law doesn’t change by February 2010, I may sadly have to close my doors forever.  I started my business with my life savings and a dream, and I would hate to have to give those up.

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    Formaldehyde, the Next Targeted Chemical

    A Senate Commerce subcommittee on Tuesday held a hearing on formaldehyde in textiles and consumer products, and we have two posts — a preview and a review –over at the Point of Law blog.

    Judging from yesterday’s testimony, it sure looks like the trial lawyer/”consumer activist”/pro-regulation political machinery is gearing up to turn formaldehyde into the latest phthalates or BPA, and in the process we could wind up with another sledge-hammer, jobs-killing bill like the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. (Not to deny that formaldehyde is a dangerous chemical that requires careful handling.)

    So to set a solid foundation for future policy debates, we’ll just offer this summary from the testimony of Dr. Phillip J. Wakelyn of Wakelyn Associates, LLC (who has worked for the cotton industry):

    There have been no valid safety related problems raised in the US concerning the low levels of formaldehyde on clothing and textiles. In view of all the studies over the last 30 years indicting that there is not a formaldehyde problem with US textiles products and regulations already in place concerning formaldehyde and textiles, no new regulations are necessary. Because the evidence is so strong that formaldehyde in textiles does not pose a problem to consumers, there is no need for legislative or regulatory action concerning formaldehyde and textiles unless the results of the GAO study, required by Section 234 of the CPSIA which became law August 14, 2008, indicate that action is necessary.

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    CPSIA: Learning from Past Mistakes

    Walter Olson at Overlawyered also takes note of yesterday’s NPR report documenting scientific evidence showing phthalates represent no health threat, but were banned nevertheless. From his post, “NPR on CPSIA: “Public Concern, Not Science, Prompts Plastics Ban”:

    Although most coverage of the CPSIA debacle (this site’s included) has focused on the lead rules, the phthalates ban is also extraordinarily burdensome, for a number of reasons: 1) as readers may recall, a successful lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others forced the last-minute retroactive banning of already-existing playthings and child care items, costing business billions in inventory and other losses; 2) vast numbers of vintage dolls, board games and other existing playthings are noncompliant, which means they cannot legally be resold even at garage sales, let alone thrift or consignment shops, and are marked for landfills instead; 3) obligatory lab testing to prove the non-presence of phthalates in newly made items is even more expensive than testing to prove the non-presence of lead. The phthalate ban is also an important contributor to the burden of the law on the apparel industry (the ingredient has often been used in screen printing on t-shirts and similar items) and books (”book-plus” items with play value often have plastic components). AmendTheCPSIA.com has reprinted a letter from Robert Dawson of Good Times Inc., an amusement maker.

    Which makes this item from the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog so dejavuable. “Lawmakers Seek to Ban BPA in Food, Beverage Containers“:

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Edward Markey introduced similar bills last month to ban the chemical, which has been linked to breast and prostate cancers and reproductive problems in animals, from all food and beverage containers, and Sen. Charles Schumer introduced a bill Tuesday that would ban it from food and beverage containers for infants and toddlers.

    The Schumer bill follows a recent move by Long Island’s Suffolk County to ban BPA in young children’s products. His bill, called the BPA-free Kids Act, would enact a nationwide ban and stiff penalties for manufacturers, importers and stores that violate it. The ban, like the one in Suffolk County, would apply to products aimed at children three years old and younger. In a statement, Schumer noted that many major retailers already have removed children’s products containing BPA from their store shelves. Last April, Toys ‘R’ Us, for example, said that by year-end it would stop carrying baby-feeding products containing BPA…

    Federal reports on BPA are contradictory. A draft report issued last year by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that BPA may be linked to a number of health and developmental problems, including breast cancer and early puberty. The Food and Drug Administration later said that BPA in small amounts doesn’t pose a health risk.

    Yes. Seems awfully familiar.

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    CPSIA Update: CPSC’s Nord Urges President Obama to Replace Her

    Nancy Nord, the acting chairman of the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, today wrote President Obama asking him to name a nominee to chair the CPSC.  (.pdf copy of letter)

    It’s unusual for any chairman, acting or otherwise, to request being replaced, and the move may look a little like political jujitsu. Still,  the difficulties in implementing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act lend Nord’s request legitimacy.

    Considering Democrats and committee chairmen like Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) have called on the President to replace Nord, it seems we have a political consensus. (See February 4th Congressional letter.)

    And, with grassroots protest and media focus increasing on the economic disaster that is the CPSIA, the President will surely feel pressure to act and act soon.

    Letter follows:

    Dear Mr. President:

    I join a number of others in respectfully requesting you to name a nominee to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

    For nearly three years, there has been a vacancy at the commission, leaving just two commissioners to vote on policy decisions. The addition of a third vote, hopefully, will streamline the process of lengthy staff discussions and negotiations currently required to reach the unanimity needed to advance the agency’s safety mission.

    A new chairman will face a number of daunting challenges, the most pressing of which will be the implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). I welcome many of the new tools that the CPSIA provides the agency, as well as the needed modernizations to the statutes administered by the CPSC (some of which were first laid out in my PRISM proposal presented to the Senate Commerce Committee in July, 2007). Although well-intentioned, the CPSIA retroactively imposes expensive testing and burdensome content requirements – even on products that everyone agrees pose little or no safety risk. (continue reading…)

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    CPSIA Update: Phthalates No Danger, or Now They Tell Us

    National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” program this morning gave good play a story about science, consumer products and Congressional overreaction, “Public Concern, Not Science, Prompts Plastics Ban

    Morning Edition, April 1, 2009 · A new federal ban on chemical compounds used in rubber duckies and other toys isn’t necessary, say the government scientists who studied the problem.

    The ban, which took effect in February, prohibits making or selling duckies and other children’s products that contain chemicals called phthalates, which are used to make plastic soft. Congress passed the ban in 2008 after concluding that the chemicals posed a risk to children who chew on their toys.

    The action came despite advice not to enact the ban from scientists at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates toys.

    The commission opposed the ban because “there was not a risk of injury to children,” says Dr. Maryland Wind, deputy associate executive director for health sciences at CPSC.

    Sidebars:

    A good story, as far as it goes, but how strange that it runs AFTER the law goes into effect, AFTER the economic damage has been done, and AFTER the media played along with the activist-politician alliance that drummed up fears about safe products.

    Missing from the reporting is any sense of how expensive this unnecessary ban has been to manufacturers and retailers, and whether consumers have felt the impact of the withdrawn chemicals.

    The story also appears to refute an earlier story run on “Morning Edition” on February 12, 2009, “New Safety Law Doesn’t Mean All’s Well In Toyland“:

    Morning Edition, February 12, 2009 · A new federal law took effect this week banning chemicals called phthalates in children’s toys and other kids’ products. While the ban was hailed as a victory for children’s health, it’s no guarantee that the products are safe.

    That’s because companies currently aren’t required to publicly disclose the chemicals they use in place of phthalates — and little is known about the health effects of one of the most widely used alternatives.

    The chemical covered in this story in DINCH, and the February 12th story is an example of reporting that helps contribute to “consumer activists” leading a campaign: Children are in danger, chemical companies refuse to talk about their production processes, and there are scientific studies. See, Toyland is still dangerous.

    The earlier online story is illustrated with a magazine cover depicting someone in a haz-mat outfit, with the word “asbestos.” Another sidebar highlights “contaminants in the home.” The implicit premise is that of the “precautionary principle” — any risk must be DISPROVED before a product can brought on the market.

    The reporter in today’s story is Jon Hamilton. The February reporter was Sarah Varney.

    UPDATE: Cato’s Jerry Taylor gives NPR applause, saying, “There are still a few reporters out there — even in liberal media bastions like NPR — who dare to question the party line.”

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    Maryland, Just the Kind of Leader the Economy Needs

    From the Washington Post, “House Approves Early-Voting Bill, Ban on Chemical in Baby Bottles“:

    Another bill would make Maryland the first state in the country to ban the use of bisphenol A in the production of baby bottles, sippy cups and other plastic items for infants. The nation’s six largest bottle manufacturers have announced they will cease use of the chemical because a series of studies have linked it to a wide range of health problems, including neurological damage, diabetes and breast cancer.

    Sponsor James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George’s), who persuaded colleagues last year to ban lead-containing toys in Maryland, said he hopes a state law could push the federal government to crack down on the chemical.

    That strategy has worked so well with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and phthalates, hasn’t it?

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    CPSIA Update: The Damage Spreads

    From Hugh Hewitt, who comments, “It is impossible to calculate the damage to the producers of those products, but the shutting down of a key marketing pipeline in the middle of recession has got to be staggering.”

    From Walter Olson at Overlawyered, “CPSIA: “We are sorry to report…” He has many other examples of businesses and jobs and products being destroyed, many previously relied upon by low-income consumers.

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