Time to Fix the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

Posted August 13, 2009 at 11:43am

Friday marks the year anniversary of the enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.This landmark legislation was intended to enhance the safety of children’s products. However, good intentions are no excuse for bad legislation. The unintended consequences of the CPSIA have created great confusion among consumers, economic risks for small businesses and further health risks for small children.[IMGCAP(1)]This law requires third-party testing by retailers to ensure products are in compliance with the new lead and phthalates regulations. For many small businesses, these costs are high enough to put them out of business. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has yet to clarify which products are subject to these testing requirements, and businesses are facing outrageous testing costs that can range from hundreds to several thousands of dollars for each product. Another serious consequence of this law is that it brings an influx of untested chemicals into the marketplace. The chemical restrictions included in the CPSIA involve a category of chemical compounds called phthalates. Phthalates have been safely used for 40 years as softeners in the manufacture of plastic toys and other children’s plastic products. A phthalate known as DINP (di-isonyl phthalate) is one of the most widely used plasticizers in children’s products. DINP has undergone almost half a century of rigorous scientific testing by government agencies, including the CPSC, which found no demonstrated risk from DINP’s use in children’s toys. Nonetheless, the CPSIA includes an interim ban on DINP and two other phthalates pending further scientific tests by the CPSC. Since the temporary ban on DINP went into effect, manufacturers are no longer able to sell children’s products with DINP in the U.S., so they are forced to turn to alternative plasticizers for these products. There are several issues with these alternatives—they are more expensive, many are produced abroad and many remain untested. Forcing manufacturers to replace government-approved compounds with potentially less safe alternatives is counterintuitive. So we’re in a situation where Congress is banning substances that have already been proven safe because it would rather be safe than sorry. Problem is, as a result of these actions, we may not end up any better or any safer. In an attempt to increase the standards of products for our children, we have actually lowered them — this ban requires less-tested and less-effective products to enter the marketplace. In its scientifically unjustified restrictions on chemicals used in the manufacture of children’s plastic products, the CPSIA actually increases the health risks to the very children the law and the commission are supposed to protect. And the vague but sweeping requirement that all businesses pay to have the children’s products that they sell tested by third parties creates a financial burden that particularly threatens small businesses struggling to survive the worst economy in 70 years.I don’t blame the CPSC. The commission inherited this unwieldy law from Congress. When it comes to implementing the law and working with Congress to change the CPSIA, the new chairman to the CPSC, Inez Tenenbaum, has important work to do. It is imperative that she expedite the CPSC testing on phthalates and their alternatives. And by focusing Congress’ attention on the blatantly unworkable product testing requirements for small businesses, perhaps she can get them eliminated. Without these changes, the CPSIA will create more risk than protection to our children and our economy. A year has gone by since the CPSIA was signed into law. Let’s not wake up a year from now and find ourselves in the same situation. Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to defending America’s small businesses.