Congressman Joe Barton, R-Arlington/Ennis, said Monday he will call for a hearing to clarify issues that have come to light about new consumer laws.

The laws, which go into effect Feb. 10, prohibit the sale of children’s products if they contain more than a set amount of lead. The laws also call for certification and testing.

Concerns have been raised that the laws would unduly affect small business owners, artisans and craftsmen, among others.

“The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that was passed in the last Congress will dramatically improve the safety of toys and other products made for America’s children,” Barton said. “I was and remain a strong proponent of those goals. 

“However, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission begins its implementation procedures, it is becoming clear that without the rapid application of some common sense, the new law also holds potential to impose vast economic hardship without actually protecting anyone – that is why I am requesting a hearing to examine these issues,” he said.

‘Urgent’ situation

In a press release, the commission said manufacturers, importers and retailers are expected to comply with the new laws.

“Beginning Feb. 10, 2009, children’s products cannot be sold if they contain more than 600 parts per million total lead,” the release reads. “Certain children’s products manufactured on or after Feb. 10, 2009, cannot be sold if they contain more than 0.1 percent of certain specific phthalates or if they fail to meet new mandatory standards for toys.”

Under the new laws, children’s products with more than 600 ppm total lead cannot lawfully be sold in the United States on or after Feb. 10 even if they were manufactured before that date. By Aug. 14, the permitted total lead limit will drop even further, to 300 ppm.

Constituent input

Barton said he and other congressmen have received “thousands” of e-mails, letters and phone calls from constituents worried about “the unintended consequences of certain provisions and deadlines in CPSC’s implementation plan.”

“Many involved in CPSIA’s creation were passionate to improve the safety of our children’s products, but surely no one expected or wanted to drive thousands of home-based and small businesses out of operation and turn thousands of Americans into surprise victims of a brutal recession,” Barton said.

“For example, it seems obvious to us that the hand-knitted sweaters and homemade hair bows sold by artisans on eBay are highly unlikely to endanger children’s health,” Barton said. “The situation is urgent. On Feb. 10, these tiny producers will be out of business. Their products, regardless of innocence and safety, will have to be removed from store shelves and the Web sites of their own home businesses.” 

According to the commission, the new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that children’s products made after Feb. 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban.

“There is no evidence that these micro-producers are doing anything wrong or endangering anyone, and I believe there is no reason for them to suffer a devastating economic blow simply because their government cannot find a way to help in time,” Barton said. “I remain a strong supporter of last Congress’ toy safety legislation, and what I am requesting is not an overhaul of that work, but a necessary fine-tuning to make certain that real toy safety is achieved without the serious unintended consequences that so many innocent people now face. 

“The first step toward providing prudent and effective relief is to conduct a hearing so everyone involved can explore the facts for themselves, understand the urgency, and coalesce around a solution,” he said.

Impact on thrift stores

In its press release, the commission indicated 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.

The new safety law also doesn’t require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, 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 new laws, which were signed Aug. 14, also prohibit the sale of recalled products and warn of civil and or criminal penalties if that happens. The commission notes that it carries information on recalled products on its Web site and asks that resellers pay special attention to certain categories such as cribs and play yards; children’s products that may contain lead, such as children’s jewelry and painted wooden or metal toys; flimsily made toys that are easily breakable into small parts; toys that lack the required age warnings; and dolls and stuffed toys that have buttons, eyes, noses or other small parts that are not securely fastened and could present a choking hazard for young children.

“The agency has under way a number of rulemaking proposals intended to provide guidance on the new lead limit requirements,” the commission’s release reads.

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