Last Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee finally held a hearing on the highly controversial Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the children's-product-safety law that took effect on Feb. 10. Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) allowed a single witness: Inez Tenenbaum, the newly installed chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), who, like himself, is a strong advocate of the law. Not one of the thousands of craftspeople, retailers and small manufacturers the law has sent reeling was permitted to testify.
This law has saddled businesses with billions of dollars in losses on T-shirts, bath toys and other items that were lawful to sell one day and unlawful the next. It has induced thrift and secondhand stores to trash mountains of outgrown blue jeans, bicycles and board games for fear there might be trivial, harmless--but suddenly illegal--quantities of lead in their zippers and valves or phthalates in their plastic spinners. (Phthalates are substances that add flexibility to plastic.) Even classic children's books are at risk: Because lead was not definitively removed from printing inks until 1985, the CPSC has advised that only kids' books printed after that date should be considered safe to resell. ...
The CPSC touched off another furor this summer when it confirmed that Mattel, the giant toy maker whose many recalls helped set off the lead-in-toys panic, had qualified for an exemption from onerous third-party (outside laboratory) testing of its products under the law, and would instead be allowed to test in its own in-house labs. (Mattel had successfully lobbied for such a provision.) Of course, most companies do not operate on a scale that will make such an exemption feasible.
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