CPSIA chronicles, March 4

by Walter Olson on March 4, 2009

[Broken link on CPSC surveillance program fixed now.]

  • The internet is a-hum with reactions to a proposal by West Virginia state representative Jeff Eldridge (D-Big Ugly) to ban Barbie dolls “and other similar dolls that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.” That idea is predictably going nowhere (at least in West Virginia: Montpelier, Vt. is said to have voted a Barbie ban*), but Eldridge can perhaps take consolation in that CPSIA has already (with virtually no media taking note of the fact) banned the sale of vast numbers of vintage Barbies that pose equal dangers of symbolic or psychological impairment, if not of actual physical dangers. This 1999 New York Times piece describes how Mattel was “beginning an effort to eliminate” the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) compounds in the dolls, and that environmental activist groups contended that PVC often included lead as well as (less surprisingly) the plastic softeners phthalates, some but not all of which are banned by the law. dollsanddollclothes As Denise Van Patten noted in an About.com write-up in January, it is not clear what old dolls are still going to be lawful to sell, distribute or give away under CPSIA, if they cannot be fit into the “adult collectible” exception that covers items so expensive they will be kept out of children’s hands. Soft plastic is only the beginning of the problem. Most older dolls have paint as a component — often only in the rendering of the eyes, but that’s enough to count as a resale red flag under the CPSC’s Feb. 9 guidelines. Hair and dyed fabric, both of unknown composition? Buttons or snaps in the garment, or worse yet, rhinestones? About the only such plaything a thrift shop would not advised to discard under the guidelines would be an unpainted and unvarnished rigid humanoid figurine of raw wood or cast aluminum. If your child does find one of those on a thrift store shelf, she’s welcome to cuddle it all she pleases.
  • Carol Baicker McKee is a children’s book author and illustrator who commented eloquently (more) on one of our earlier posts about books. Now she has a great post explaining why, although she “never used to think of myself as an activist,” she’s thrown herself into the fight to change this law. As she points out, some things changed, but other things didn’t change, when the CPSC announced a short safe list of presumptively lawful material for children’s products along with a one-year stay on many testing requirements (but not on the banning of goods that flunk the thresholds). She explains why “the stays provide only the illusion of relief,” and that “when the stay ends a year from now, the destructive testing provisions will still go into effect for all children’s products except the small percentage that have been given a reprieve – the costs of that testing will force the remaining small businesses that have limped along this year into oblivion (and the [requirement for] destructive testing will obviously signal the end of one of a kind products).” Read the whole thing.
  • In a classic 1850 pamphlet, Frederic Bastiat writes of “what is seen, and what is not seen” when people recommend government solution to a problem. Deputy Headmistress writes of “what Congress didn’t see“. More: Patrick Stephens on a similar theme last month.
  • A Georgia newspaper quotes CPSC spokeswoman Arlene Flecha as saying that “her agency will have inspectors make unannounced visits to stores throughout the country and will randomly conduct tests on products.” And if you’re wondering about the CPSC “Internet surveillance project”, in which agents of the commission pose as consumers in order to trap detect persons selling forbidden goods on eBay or Craigslist, you can find out more about that here (link fixed now).
  • At the Heritage Foundation’s InsiderOnline blog, Alex Adrianson has a detail-filled though not lengthy post that would make a good short introduction to the subject to send to (say) a lawmaker.
  • Allison Loudermilk at the How Stuff Works blogs takes a look at the law’s heavy impact on thrift stores (“the selection at your local thrift store just got a whole lot slimmer”), while the PTA Thrift Shop of Carrboro, N.C. regrets to inform its customers that it’s out of kids’ resale entirely due to the law; things are only a little better in Salem, Ore. Manager Lisa Sonnek of the York, Nebraska Goodwill has pulled all the children’s clothing, toys, furniture, and pre-1985 books, in accord with policy from above, but has put aside “some clean children’s clothing, in anticipation of the policy being modified in the near future”. Dunno – that might depend on Henry Waxman’s heart melting or something.

*Although numerous online sources report as fact a Montpelier Barbie “ban”, commenter Barb says it’s far from clear that the reports have much of a factual basis.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Proposing new laws to “start a dialogue”?
03.06.09 at 7:51 pm
NPR on CPSIA: “Public Concern, Not Science, Prompts Plastics Ban”
04.02.09 at 12:47 pm

{ 7 comments }

1 Happymom4 03.04.09 at 9:59 pm

And if you’re wondering about the CPSC “Internet surveillance project”, in which agents of the commission pose as consumers in order to trap detect persons selling forbidden goods on eBay or Craiglist, you can find out more about that here.

You are joking, right?? The link is “dead” for all practical purposes, but maybe that is the point?!

And I love your Henry Waxman’s joke about his heart melting! Great use of English–much needed humor in these dark times!

2 Walter Olson 03.04.09 at 10:12 pm

Whoops, no, I wasn’t joking, I just didn’t enter the link properly. It’s a real program. Link works now.

3 Tristan Benz 03.04.09 at 11:02 pm

I can tell you, while I’ve got a home page that is basically a HUGE STOP SIGN to my potential customers (even including a note warning them of the email they WILL receive), I’ve had a few customers respond to my “double check” on their intended use saying, “gee, I must not have see it” and “yes, it was for a child so please cancel.” I can’t say it’s not without the thought in the back of my mind that these folks are a “set up” – sorry to disappoint, if so – it may be I’m one of the last of a dying breed, but I do, in fact, practice what I preach and maintain my integrity. So, whatever.

But I can see how this camel’s nose under the tent will one day have us all sleeping with either one hump or two on our heads…it’s a slippery slope! Thanks for covering the “secret shopper” component – another great way for the government to generate jobs (since they’re cutting so many with CPSIA in effect)?!

FYI, if other citizens, parents, businesses, etc. feel they’d like to become an activist, they are more than welcome to stop by my blog and use the image I created today – to show solidarity for this movement to take on Waxman and OUR public servants and ensure our laws are born of our will. http://www.tristansepinion.blogspot.com (note, it’s not a website for wet noodles – it’s for people who really want to put their money where their mouth is – er, what’s LEFT of their money that is! :-).

Thanks again – I’m going to notify folks about this post because it has more “it’s too bizarre to be believed” content. Sadly, I fear I’m growing numb…but remaining vigilant!

Warm Regards,
Tristan Benz
Maiden America

4 DeputyHeadmistress 03.05.09 at 2:59 am

Towards the melting of Waxman’s heart, maybe somebody should throw water on Waxman.

5 S. Walter 03.05.09 at 2:35 pm

I’m involved with several service and charitable organizations in Maui. Sadly, “rummage” sales have always been a large part of fundraising efforts…which now must be reconsidered and perhaps abandoned. The impact will be much greater than the average citizen realizes, I believe, especially in a tourist based economy. Why?? Think about these issues:

In Maui, there are companies which rent toys, beach items, strollers, etc. to tourists. If I’ve read the Act and the excellent material provided here correctly, those companies are certainly under the umbrella. Further, one must wonder about privately owned condominiums which are rented. Does the Act apply to the toys, ballpoint pens, books, etc. which are in the unit? Could a guest sue the condo owner and/or the management company for not providing items which comply? Just some ramblings from Paradise….

6 Lora 03.05.09 at 3:06 pm

Why all the kicking and screaming over “tests” and “certificates” ?

Everything should be TESTED and CERTIFIED!!!
Just because you “honest” business people tell me it’s cotton — how can I know for sure? It’s not that I am stupid and mistrusting and gullible – I simply need data and documents approved by my faithful Government (that’s where I put all my trust and my money in the form of taxes – and a lot of it, too).

How can I be sure paper is really PAPER?
An apple really an APPLE?

I am all for being afraid of everything – we have every reason to be!

For all I know, I may not be sitting in this “chair” right now, in front of a “computer”. Neither my chair nor my computer have been certified by my Government ensuring me that they really are what they claim to be!

Oh dear! I am lost now. How will I ever be safe?

I do hope that this gets resolved so that only Government manufactured products (or at least Govt. approved manufacturers, like the Federal Reserve (they make such pretty money) will be on the market and then distributed in rations, as they should have been all along!

Let’s band together to make us even safer by adding more regulations! There are just too many dangers out there to not take this seriously.”

7 Barb 03.07.09 at 10:10 am

Is it true that Montpelier, Vermont “voted a Barbie ban”?

The 1997 Salon article you linked to (Barbie banned in Vermont) actually just says that Barbie is unpopular with parents in Montpelier and that the one toy store in town chooses not to stock it. Nothing about a legal ban. Nothing about votes. Is there a better source for this? A google search for “montpelier barbie -eldridge” turned up nothing but references to the Salon article.

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