CPSC says resale shops can sell used kids clothes, but...

Thrifty shoppers, Goodwill, and those planning to hold a yard sale anytime after February 10 all took a deep breath of relief yesterday, only to be replaced with a gasp of continued disbelief over the CPSC's new children's products act. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which cracks down on lead and phthalates in children's toys, clothing, and gear of all sorts, requires that manufacturers or sellers test for lead using very expensive equipment before selling any item (from a toddler's cotton jacket with a zipper to a BMX bike) that might possibly contain it. While most of the onus on providing the tests falls to the manufacturer (which has lead to an outcry from small toy and clothing manufacturers who will now be required to conduct very expensive testing and certification, even for "natural" products like wood blocks and cloth diapers), the penalties -- and the responsibility for providing certification to the CPSC -- would belong to the seller.

[Update: As of February 6, 2009, the future was still uncertain, though consumers and retailers had hope thanks to an amendment to be introduced by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and calls for CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord to step down.]

Some thrift stores were holding clearance sales on children's items, and refusing to accept more toys and kids' clothing for resale, fearing that the entire market for children's thrift would turn into hazardous waste overnight.

Yesterday, the CPSC released a statement indicating that "Sellers of used children's products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards." In other words: Goodwill is safe. Or is it?

The very next paragraph of the statement qualified the safety of thrift stores entirely:"resellers cannot sell children's products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties." The statement went on to threaten penalties for any seller which offered a recalled product for sale.

While I certainly don't agree with reselling recalled products knowingly, telling sellers that they don't have to test for lead, but they certainly can't sell anything with lead in it, is talking out of both sides of the agency's mouth, and will have a chilling effect on the industry. I predict many thrift stores will get out of the business of children's products entirely. Why risk being the next business investigated on the News at 10! as selling toxic t-shirts? It's just not worth the pain for many business owners.

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