For the third (or is it the fourth?) time in as many years, the CPSC is again “addressing” the issue of reducing third-party testing burdens. For those who have already commented repeatedly on this issue, Einstein’s definition of insanity may seem especially apt. In spite of direction from the Congress to either address testing burdens on its own or report on appropriate statutory authority needed to do so, the agency has repeatedly asked for comment but done nothing to actually reduce the testing burdens that have been so well documented.
This time the agency has announced that it will be holding a workshop, on April 3, focusing on reducing testing burdens associated with the regulations dealing with phthalates and lead content and the eight substances listed in the ASTM F-963 Toy Standard. The purpose is consider whether it is possible to determine that certain materials, irrespective of manufacturing origin or process, will always comply with agency regulations and therefore do not need testing. The agency is interested in worldwide production processes—past, current and, interestingly, future—but only with respect to the three areas noted above. In other words, tell them how past and current materials and manufacturing processes, and looking into a crystal ball, those that might be used in the future throughout the world show that the existing regulations in the three areas always will be complied with. Anything else is outside the scope of this inquiry.
Because the agency’s scope of inquiry is so narrow, it follows that any relief coming out of it will also be very narrow. So while I encourage either comments (due by April 17) or participation in the workshop (sign up by March 13), I do not have high hopes that meaningful burden reduction will be the end product. At best, there might be a slight adjustment to the list of materials the agency has determined do not and cannot contain lead and, hence, do not need testing. The further development of a list of materials determined not to have phthalates and the other substances listed in the toy standard may also be of help. At worst, the information collected will go into the maw of the agency and be digested with the other information the agency has already collected, but with no further useful output any time soon, other than for the agency to look like it is busy doing something.
There have been many practical suggestions made over the past three years that, if implemented, would reduce the needless waste of resources that the testing requirements have added to the supply chain and which consumers have to pay for. But the agency has been operating in a world that values endless process over meaningful results.
Einstein also said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Unfortunately, it does not look like any new thinking will be happening soon.