Archive for the 'Component Testing' Category

Big Costs + No Health Gains = Crazy Results

Tomorrow, the Commission will consider whether, under the CPSIA, children’s products need to meet a new standard that drives lead content from 99.97% to 99.99% lead free.  Our staff has not told us there are health benefits to be gained from this change.  Our staff has told us that, by regulating at this miniscule trace level, we should expect to drive up costs, limit consumer choice, and drive some businesses out of the market (thereby costing jobs).  I predict that this result will not be an issue for a majority of my colleagues; it should be. 

Last week I got an email from an executive of a company whose product line includes some children’s products.  He told me that his company planned to spend at least $80,000 trying to retrofit two products totaling 16,000 units:

  • In one product, a part that will have to be replaced contains 105 ppm.  That misses the proposed limit by less than one thousandth of one percent. 
  • In this product, a second part contains 179 ppm, so it is 99.9821% lead-free but not 99.99%. 
  • In the second product, a part tested at 114 ppm, making it 99.9886% lead-free but not 99.99%.

One of the products is a small toggle lock used on the top drawstring closure of a sleeping bag.  The other is a similarly innocuous product that kids do not mouth or swallow. 

This expense is just for two products from one company.  Imagine how many others are out there making children’s products that will bear similar or greater cost for no health benefit.  There is no concern in any corner, including here at the agency, that these products may expose children to dangerous levels of lead.  Yet while these products are perfectly legal today, come August 15, they cannot be sold.

The agency had the opportunity to try to stop such a wasteful outcome.  Instead, we are poised to require these kinds of crazy results throughout the economy.  While the law is written in a way that greatly limits our options to stop these crazy results, even within the framework of the law, we have done very little to try to regulate in a more sensible manner. 

We need to direct the agency’s resources to address actually dangerous products. Congressional action to correct the obvious problems with the law is also sorely needed.  In the meantime, the waste continues and the costs we all must bear increase.  Our staff has told us that health benefits to be gained are minimal from this effort but great expense will occur.  Consumers are not benefited by such a result.


Logjam Broken?

 I am glad to see that the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade voted today to support a bill to enhance CPSC’s authorities to prioritize based on risk and thereby protect consumers while reducing some of the unintended consequences of the CPSIA. I hope that momentum for some real reform continues to pick up pace.

 Arguments being made against the bill do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, it is said that this bill will do away with third-party testing: not true. Mandatory third-party testing is preserved for the standards that CPSIA listed as priorities (i.e. lead paint, cribs, pacifiers, small parts, lead content in children’s metal jewelry, baby bouncers, walkers, jumpers and other durable nursery goods). In addition, CPSC is allowed to require third-party testing for other standards as it determines is needed for consumer safety, as well as continued compliance testing. The point is that the expert agency will decide what testing makes the most sense.

 It is said that this bill creates “common toy box” problems, i.e. children playing with older children’s toys. If the “common toy box” problem is the concern that children will use something beyond their age range, where does this theory stop when the child plays with things throughout the house?

Anyone who has raised children recognizes the silliness of the “common toy box” argument. Most parents remember sitting their baby on the kitchen floor with a pan and metal spoon to bang away with. Of course, the lead in these products – used for cooking and eating – is considerably higher than what is specified in the CPSIA. And parents know that 12-year-olds do not tolerate lightly toddlers getting into their stuff. But more importantly, the common toy box argument does not recognize the long standing practice of this agency to regulate products based on the hazard they pose as determined by the age of the child. For example, we recognize that small parts present a choking hazard to small children but that same hazard is not present for older children. Therefore we ban small parts in toys intended for toddlers. We do not take the position that a common toy box means that small parts are banned in all toys. We look at the risk and then regulate as appropriate. Lead exposure in children’s products should not be treated any differently.

Other arguments being made against the bill also do not stand up to examination. It’s good news that this bill is on its way to full committee consideration. The sooner CPSIA reforms are in place, the sooner CPSC can return to focusing its resources on consumer risks that matter most.

Is Third Party Testing All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Among the many interesting aspects of the recent House hearing on the need for amendments to the CPSIA was testimony about third party testing.  One of the witnesses recounted a client’s experiences sending the same product out for third party testing and getting back varying results.  Variations occurred when product was sent several times to the same lab, as well as when product was sent to several different labs.  This testimony tracked what I have heard from others. 

Variation in testing results can and does occur with disturbing frequency.  These variations happen even when the lab is not doing anything wrong.  Some factors causing these variations in results relate to things as simple as changes in ambient temperature or humidity or the storage conditions of the sample.  But this illustrates the fallacy of one of the foundations of the CPSIA—that third party testing is the only way to assure the safety of children’s products and, therefore, it must be mandated.

A thoughtful discussion of this issue is especially timely now for several issues under consideration at the agency. Concerning the so-called 15 month rule on testing and certification, the agency has been debating for over a year whether ongoing periodic testing of children’s products always needs to be third party testing.   In addition, as the agency struggles with the question of the CPSIA-mandated lead level migration for products from 99.97% lead free to 99.99% lead free (that is, from 300 ppm to 100 ppm), we all recognize that testing variations will occur.  At these minuscule levels they will occur more often.  The expense involved in testing when neither reliability nor real risk is present should give all of us pause.  And it should make us all understand that third party testing is not the “be all and end all” that the CPSIA makes it out to be.

The draft legislation put forward by Rep. Bono Mack returns to the CPSC the important decision of when third party testing is appropriate and should be required.  The CPSC has the scientific expertise for making that decision and that is why we asked for this flexibility in the CPSIA in 2008.  This flexibility is what we need both to advance safety and to minimize unnecessary testing costs that may crush so many small businesses.  The CPSIA took it away; I hope amendments to CPSIA quickly restore such decision-making to the agency.

The CPSC today is announcing that it is sincerely concerned about the crushing, job killing impact of the CPSIA on small businesses! 

Oops!  I just checked my calendar – it’s April 1.

Many in the agency have been touting the much anticipated component parts testing rule as a real boon for small businesses.  I share this hope.  Therefore, I am more and more perplexed: if it will be so useful, why is the component parts testing rule (proposed 10 months ago) being held hostage to the more complicated, more complex “15 month” testing and certification rule??? That’s what is happening.  While the component parts rule may help businesses cope with their testing requirements, our very cursory assessment of the testing and certification rule shows it will impose several hundred millions dollars of costs on product manufacturers.  Unfortunately neither the costs nor the benefits of this rule have been properly quantified so the agency will be regulating blindly.  Never mind that there is no reason for sitting on the component parts rule and that our words pointing to it as a boon for small business ring hollow by our actions. 

We haven’t been able to put out succinct, helpful rules (see our muddled definition of “children’s products”). When we have the opportunity to do it with component testing, we delay.

Sadly, the real April fool’s joke is on both businesses and consumers.

Health Benefits in Check

Last week I received a letter from a father of a child with juvenile diabetes who told me of his efforts to raise money to support scientific research to prevent this terrible childhood disease.  I will leave it to you to reach your own conclusions as to whether public health is benefited from his experience:

“Commissioner Nord:

I have learned of the controversy surrounding the Consumer Product Safety laws regarding lead in children’s products.  I wanted to bring to your attention a plan I had been developing to collect and market used denim jeans, with the proceeds to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).  I have now learned that my planned sale of used denim jeans would be in violation of Consumer Product Safety laws as they relate to lead.  I have therefore, halted all efforts to develop this charitable plan.

[Using] girl and boy scouts and local young people interested in community service, we…expected to raise several thousand dollars for the JDRF.  Not huge sums of money -but denim jeans are a “renewable” resource.  If successful, this effort could be renewed regularly in the same or different areas, communities and cities.  The garments would be recycled (always a plus) and the JDRF, and other charities could financially benefit.  It appeared to me to be a “win” for everybody. 

Unfortunately, what I assume are unintended consequences have conspired to deny me the opportunity to make this effort.  While it baffles me how this prohibition can be realistically justified, I respect that it is the law and I will of course, make no attempt to pursue this charitable endeavor…”.

In a world of scarce resources, we have to be smart about the requirements that are imposed on the public. I question whether the health benefit, if any, from prohibiting sale of used kids jeans offset those flowing from efforts like that described above but which do not pass muster under CPSIA.

Stay of Enforcement: Let’s Decide Already

I recently wrote about the status of the stay of enforcement (SOE) of the lead content testing and certification requirements of the CPSIA.  Unless the CPSC acts, the SOE lifts on February 10, in 3 weeks.  We have received a number of petitions and requests to extend the stay.  Although specific action has not yet been taken – on either these petitions or my request for a Commission meeting on these issues – I can assure you there have been a lot of conversations going on and serious thought being given to this impending problem.

 I believe that, as we address the SOE, we need to be mindful of its relationship to the component parts proposed rule and the proposed testing and certification rule (the “15 month rule”).  Commissioners have pointed to the availability of component testing as a way of easing the significant testing burden on final product makers, especially small crafters.  We have heard from some component makers that they are not planning to third party test and certify until they understand the rules of the road and can make a rational business-based decision.  It is understandable that a component parts manufacturer would not want to do the initial third party testing and certification without understanding what its continuing testing responsibilities may be.  On the other hand, perhaps there are some component makers who are willing to take on this unknown liability.  We just do not know. 

Whether this is resolved in a public discussion as I requested, or otherwise, we need to reach a decision ASAP.

Deadlines Looming

Over the past few months the agency has been busy issuing for public comment proposed rules required by CPSIA. Consumer safety is unquestionably our goal at the CPSC, however, some of these proposals are questionable in how consumer safety might be achieved, and unclear at what expense. Some of these proposals are aimed at specific products, some are administrative in nature and some are very significant and will have a profound impact, for better or worse, on the cost and availability of consumer products.  It is so important that those who will be affected by these proposed rules let us know how they will impact you.  Your comments can indeed shape the final product.  In past blogs, I have discussed the importance of getting comments from those affected by our actions.  Because the public comment period for many of these proposals is closing over the upcoming summer months, I thought it would be useful to list some of them and the end date for comments.  So here goes:

Interpretation of Children’s Product — June 21, 2010

Publicly Available Consumer Complaint Database — July 23, 2010

Testing Rules for Component Parts — August 3, 2010

Testing and Labeling Pertaining to Product Certification (15 Month Rule) — August 3, 2010

We also have out for comment several proposed rules dealing with specific products such as toddler bed, bassinets, and drawstrings on children’s outwear, among others. 

While these proposed rules are important, I don’t have to remind you they impose a real impact on those who make consumer products.  Since the agency has abandoned cost/ benefit analysis of these rules, we will not have information on the real world impact of our rules – unless you tell us.

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