Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No joy in toyville: Safety act hurts small firms

Tierney Latham bounced around the family room in her Fairfield home in a purple and white handmade dress decorated with a princess print. The 4-year-old beamed as her mother, Liz Seaman, helped put a crown on her head that was monogrammed with her name, flowers, a spider and a ladybug.
Seaman, 45, is a single mother and works full time as a nurse at Bridgeport Hospital. She purchased her daughter's crown, as well as bamboo spoons and other wooden toys from Earthetarian.com, and said she often gets her children's toys from small vendors of handmade toys.
"Who wants a cookie cutter version of everything?" Seaman said.
In response to the 2007 lead scare from toys produced in China, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in August 2008. The act bans lead and phthalates in children's products and will require certification and third-party testing, at as much as $4,000 per toy — a mandate that could push small toy makers in Connecticut out of business when the law goes into effect Feb. 10.
Stephanie Niles, 34, of Fairfield, has been making toys from all-natural materials and running Earthetarian.com for four years. Niles said she won't be able to stay in business with the new regulations in place.
"Unless you're a huge manufacturer, people are going to have to raise prices or stop making toys and children's items," Niles said. "I want kids to be protected but I think it should be reworded so it safeguards small businesses at the same time."
The Handmade Toy Alliance, an organization of 197 toy store owners, toy makers and children's product manufacturers from across the country, is asking Congress to protect their businesses by amending how the law will be implemented.
Jill Chuckas, who runs her shop CraftyBaby.com out of her Stamford home, said the Alliance supports passage of a "component certification," which would mean that if the materials she uses to make her products have been tested and are certified as being safe, toy makers can skip the costly third-party testing.
The Alliance is also seeking a natural materials exemption that would waive the tests for products that are made of naturally occurring materials known to not contain toxic materials, like organic cotton, beeswax or wood.
"Safety needs to be first and foremost, but the way that this regulation has been worded is so far reaching that it's almost impossible for small businesses such as myself, as well as some larger ones, to comply with the certification process and stay in business," Chuckas said.
Chuckas, 38, began her business as a stay-at-home mom. She said she has been selling her handmade balls, bibs, blankets and pillows at craft shows and to stores throughout the country for 10 years. She also sells on-line.
Chuckas said her business affords her the ability to have a flexible schedule, and supplements her family's income, enabling her three children to enroll in dance classes and piano lessons.
"I find it really frustrating that I have to go through the certification process when businesses such as myself were never really the issue," Chuckas said.
U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, said Congress passed the law "when our children's health was threatened by an onslaught of lead-tainted toys and other potentially harmful jewelry and toys."
"Now, as these laws and regulations are being put into place, we recognize that there needs to be some additional fine tuning and my colleagues and I are working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure these laws function as intended," DeLauro said.

Originally appeared 1/27/2009 in the Republican-American©

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