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New lead limits strain small firms

By Associated Press
August 14, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Tighter limits on the amount of lead the government allows in children’s products and a requirement for new tracking labels are stirring fear among small-business owners, already hurting in a tough economy.

Starting today, the new limits and labels are required as part of a consumer product safety law passed by Congress last summer in the wake of dozens of recalls of lead-tainted toys.

Consumer advocates hailed the measures. But some small businesses, like American Educational Products in Fort Collins, Colo. - it sells classroom teaching aids like flash cards, animal models, globes, and relief maps - say the testing and labeling costs are crippling to their operations even though their products are safe. They want the law amended to exempt products that present little or no risk to young children.

“The challenge as a small business is that I cannot do it all (the testing) immediately,’’ said Michael Warring, president of AMEP. “I would have to spend a full year of revenue to test every product I sell.’’

In his 15 years with AMEP, he has not had one safety recall or complaint about lead.

The new chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Inez Tenenbaum, has tried to reassure businesses that the agency will work with them as it enforces the new requirements.

The law, known as CPSIA, sets strict standards for lead and chemicals called phthalates when used in toys and products for children 12 and under. Lead can cause irreversible brain damage, and some studies have linked phthalates to reproductive problems.

The bill was signed into law one year ago. Since then, CPSC rules have been trickling out - explaining who must comply, and how, as well as announcements about delays in enforcement for certain industries.