The Basics of CPSIA

I’ve been asked numerous times, how come I don’t list (more) items with cute embellishments, matching hair bows or clothing with zippers and buttons.  I understand the question and take it to heart.  As a Mom of little girls, I love the thought of matching accessories to go with their outfits; as a business owner the thought of adding accessories and expanding my listings is extremely appealing.

The problem is all due to the CPSIA.

The what?

The CPSIA.

The CPSIA stands for the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act which is a law that was enacted in August of 2008.  The stated purpose of this bill is to “establish consumer product safety standards and other safety requirements for children’s products and to reauthorize and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

The CPSIA requires that all products intended for children under 12 are tested and certified as meeting the lead limits as set forth in the law. Phthalate testing is also required for toys intended for children under 12 or “child care articles” for children under three.

The CPSIA came about in response to the high levels of lead/phthlates found in children’s toys and products over the last 5 years.  It was written as consumers demanded regulation over imported products that often have little manufacturing safeguards in place.  What it means is the items our children will wear/play now have safeguards in place. A guarantee they are safe from harmful substances such as lead and phthalates.

What wasn’t anticipated was the impact it would have on small businesses making handcrafted items. It means there is much more involved with making children’s items than going to the store, buying materials and coming home to craft!  It means making sure all of your manufacturing practices and materials are CPSIA compliant.  It means spending unmeasurable amounts of time trying to read through the technical jargon to fully understand the legislation. 

But back to the purpose of this post.  Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the CPSIA and how it affects the items you see for sale at Stitch To Stitch

When the law was originally written and enacted, there were materials exemptions set based upon the manufacturing of said items.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission felt that certain materials would be lead-free if appropriate procedures were followed during production.

The following materials are considered exempt from third party lead testing by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission):

  • Precious metals, including gold, silver, and titanium.
  • Precious and semiprecious gemstones that are not associated with lead in nature, e.g. rubies, emeralds, tourmaline, jade, quartz.
  • Natural and cultured pearls.
  • Wood.
  • Amber.
  • Minerals and fossils, except for those minerals (like galena) that are associated with lead in nature.
  • Plant-based materials such as bark, essential oils, jojoba, and tung oil.
  • Animal-based materials such as horn, coral, seashells, bone, shellac, and animal glue.
  • Food-grade items such as beeswax, mineral oil, food coloring, herbs, milk, and honey.
  • All textiles: dyed and undyed, natural and synthetic.
  • Paper, cardboard, and similar wood-pulp products.
  • CMYK process printing ink.
  • Books, if they are made entirely of exempt materials.  All books printed after 1985 are considered to be made of exempt materials.

Thankfully, for me, this means that my fabric, lace and thread are considered exempt.  The exemption of these three materials covers over 90% of the basic materials used in all of my creations.  For me, these exemptions lend a huge sigh of relief.  When the CPSIA was originally enacted some people chose to simply shut down their businesses if their main materials were not on the exemption list.

Not only where certain materials automatically granted exemption, the CPSC also determined that some materials could be conditionally exempt.  Cases where they believed overall the materials could be a concern, but that in specific situations it became innocuous.

The following materials are exempted from third-party testing if they meet certain conditions:

  • Adhesives, if they cannot be touched by a child.
  • Stainless steel, except for 303Pb stainless steel.
  • Leather, if it does not have a surface pigment (these pigments are considered in the same category as paints)
  • Paper, cardboard, and other paper products, if they do not have a coating on them (such as laminating).
  • Any component that is inaccessible, meaning it cannot be touched by a child’s finger.

The conditional exemption of inaccessibility allows me to not worry about the content of elastics used in waistbands, necklines, armholes, etc.  (Some would argue that elastic is considered a textile; others disagree.  This bypasses the argument totally.)  The casings I sew are fully enclosed so the child can not touch the elastic under normal wear/conditions.  Yet another huge sigh of relief for Stitch To Stitch.

To minimize confusion, some items were clearly listed in the legislation as not being exempt from the testing.  These are items that have previously been culprits of high lead levels in children’s products.

The following materials are specifically mentioned in the document as not exempted from third-party lead testing:

  • Composite wood products, like particle board
  • Paints, varnishes, and lacquers
  • Ceramic glazes and clay
  • Glass, crystals, and rhinestones
  • Art supplies
  • Inks that do not become part of the paper
  • Lamination
  • Screen printing inks
  • Metal and plastic components, such as nails, screws, zippers, buttons, snaps, hair bands, barrettes, and doll accessories
  • Metal or plastic bindings used to hold books together, including staples.

This is where the CPSIA gets really difficult for me.  Zippers, buttons, snaps and barrettes are the 4 main items that I’d be interested in using.  What does this mean?

It means that either I completely ignore the regulations and risk being fined, or I ensure these items are certifiably lead-free.  The biggest problem of this regulation, is the cost incurred at the small business level.  From what I’ve read lead testing through a certified lab can easily run in the THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for a single item. This might not mean much to a huge manufacturer with revenues in the millions of dollars but for a small business owner this cost is debilitating.  Without a doubt it quickly becomes cost-prohibitive.

Right now they are allowing for “upstream certification”, meaning a crafter is allowed to use the test results of a supplier to certify that a product is lead-free or phthalate-free.  So you’re in luck if you can find a supplier that has their items tested.  One of the common problems is that they will tell customers their items are not “designated for children under 13”.  A technical loophole which allows them to not complete the testing, saving thousands of dollars for those who could afford to do the testing.

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My biggest concern as a shop owner is what lies ahead for the handmade/handcrafted industry.  Are they going to tighten down legislation even further?  Will they mandate everything be third-party tested at some point?

It’s hard too, because it’s apparent that many people are either completely unaware of the legislation or are blatantly ignoring it. I know that I’ve lost sales to shops that are non-compliant. It saddens me to know that I’m losing revenue by following the law.  At what point will Etsy, Artfire and other marketplaces require that all shops affected by these standards prove they are following the legislation?   

To put it mildly, although great in theory, the CPSIA is a major hindrance for the small artisan community.

If you’re interested in reading more about the CPSIA, you can find easy to understand information at this link:  http://www.whatisthecpsia.com/

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