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CPSC Lead Ruling Covering Children's Products Causes Problems

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

A Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ruling covering content of toxic chemicals in children's products is causing chaos in the children's clothing marketplace.

The problems stem from legislation enacted by Congress last August in response to a flap over the lead content in children's toys. The legislation goes beyond toys to cover clothing, footwear and other products used in "child care," such as bibs, pacifiers and  mattresses. The regulation sets limits on the level of two chemicals, lead and phthalates - colorless chemicals used to make vinyl and other plastics soft and pliable. The standard sets a 0.006-percent level for lead and 0.1 percent for phthalates. US textile manufacturers say there is no lead used in fabric they make for children's clothing, and they seriously doubt there is any in imported goods.

The regulations require testing and certification of the levels of the two chemicals in children's products. CPSC and a court have held that the compliance with the chemical levels is retroactive and covers goods already on retail shelves or in the pipeline. Recognizing the problems resulting from retroactive application, CPSC issued a stay of the testing and certification requirements until February 10, 2010, but products must still meet the standard. A CPSC statement said,  "All businesses, including but not limited to, handmade toy and apparel makers, crafters and home-based businesses, must still be sure that their products conform to all safety standards and similar requirement, including the lead and phthalates provisions." That has raised major concerns among retailers, who do not want to get stuck with merchandise that may at some time or another be considered not in compliance.

A coalition of children's apparel manufacturers says the retroactivity of the regulation could force manufacturers to take back as much as $500 million in returns of safe products. A spokesman for the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Childrenswear says this would have a "devastating impact on a critical small business sector at the worst possible time."

Apparel manufacturers are seeking more guidance from CPSC and ultimately legislation that could address the problem. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has introduced a bill calling for a delay in the rules to give CPSC the time it needs to develop what he says would be a "balanced, sensible approach' to testing and certifying children's clothing.

February 10, 2009