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Misinformation and the CPSIA

Posted by: John Tozzi on January 15, 2009

There’s some talk today about misinformation around the CPSIA after a TV interview that commission spokeswoman Julie Vallese did. (For those just joining us, CPSIA is a new product safety law that small retailers say will force them out of business through burdensome testing mandates.) Since we’re in the information business, I just wanted to briefly run through this.

“There is a lot of misinformation being floated out by the media, by the mommy blogs, by others blogging on legislation that they’re just not understanding,” Vallese said in the interview (around 3:15 in the video). Probably not the best PR move to single out “the mommy blogs.” But putting that aside, here’s the Catch-22 on this. There is a huge lack of information and clarification from the regulators about how this law will be implemented. The CPSC’s site does little to elucidate the law. With a dearth of official information, the people affected are forced to interpret the law themselves.

The regulators are in a bind because they have to enforce the law Congress wrote. They say they plan to start an official rulemaking process on exemptions soon, but that won’t be done before the Feb. 10 deadline for the first phase of enforcement. Until those official rules are decided, it seems like there will continue to be confusion and ambiguity surrounding this. (Good luck looking to the actual law for help.)

Is there misinformation “out there” on the Internet? No doubt. But I think it’s more because there’s so little authoritative information to guide people. I don’t think many people are deliberately spreading misleading information on this. But almost no one has good guidance yet, so speculation abounds. For reporters, bloggers, business owners, consumers, or anyone trying to understand this, that makes it tough to wrap your head around.

We’re interested in good information here. We’re interested in a thoughtful policy debate about the best way to keep kids’ products safe without putting small shops and producers out of business. What we’re not interested in is noise or personal attacks that don’t advance the conversation, and to everyone’s credit, the discussion here has been remarkably thoughtful.

Let’s keep it going. Post sources of good information here, or on the page we built for this on the Business Exchange. And thanks to all who are helping us cover this running story.

Reader Comments

Mark Riffey

January 15, 2009 02:06 PM


Thanks for staying on top of this story. Retailers and makers of handcrafted products definitely appreciate it.

The rock-and-a-hard-place situation that retailers, resellers and manufacturers are in is illustrated in my review of the Vallese video (URL below).

Vallese described the thrift store owner's situation as one where “they simply need to make a business decision at a level of confidence that the products that they are selling meet the law.”

She then proceeds to suggest that while testing isn't necessary, it's that, get a certificate from a manufacturer (implying that testing has been done) or "make an informed decision" about a garment or toy.

Hardly the basis of a business decision, much less a legal defense. or see (expands to the URL above).


January 15, 2009 03:32 PM

It seems to me the first step in the right direction is to consider putting the kibosh on retroactive ruling.

How is anyone going to take the agency seriously if they don't? How can they make a law that is retroactive and say that thrift store owners can make an educated guess that something has lead or not but someone who is involved in the actual manufacturing of an item and knows their product is safe cannot have that same luxury. That is just irresponsible. I wouldn't want to be a thrift store owner. I wonder what will happen to their insurance rates because of this.

Another alternative if they can't call off the retroactivity may be to actually figure out how to help all of these stores. Instead of having the 100 XRF swat team staff out on Feb 10, work with the stores, create a sustainable database and help them out. That is what the budget should be for. Idealist I am but it seems rational.

No one making or selling children's products intentially wants to harm them.


January 15, 2009 07:46 PM

I heard/read Vallese resigned her post on this week. . . so take everything she ever said with a huge grain of salt! She is the biggest source of misinformation they had. . . hopefully it will get better now. . . .

Kidcessory Haven

January 20, 2009 12:26 PM

To push back that Feb. 10 deadline would put everyone's mind at rest, temporarily. At lease the commission could come to some real conclusions without this sheer panic that has everyone so crazy right now.

Kidcessory Haven


January 21, 2009 04:44 PM

Just F.Y.I.


January 21, 2009 10:32 PM

The Commission tried NOT to make the ban on phthalates retroactive, but Democrat Barbara Boxer insisted that retroactivity was her intention, and a consumer's group suited to force their hands.

Jo Baron

January 25, 2009 04:58 AM

Does anyone think there are some politicians brave and smart enough to help us? Who?
What will happen to all the money we've wasted on testing when, months or years from now, it's clear that requiring lead tests on fabric is a mistake?

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