February 5, 2009

Everything Must Not Go! Court Spanks CPSC, Upholds CPSIA Phthalate Ban

Short story: If you make or sell plastic or vinyl children's products, you can forget whatever plans you made for the weekend.

Slightly longer story: The Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen sued the CPSC over exceptions the Commission made last November to the CPSIA, the new law that bans lead and phthalates in children's products. Lead's got a lot of attention, but phthalates, not so much. It's a group of chemicals used as softeners in plastic and vinyl, and it can screw up kids' hormones and reproductive systems. Especially boys.

A US district judge just ruled that the CPSC was wrong in basically every way when it told manufacturers and retailers that prohibitions on phthalates set to take effect Feb. 10--that's next Tuesday!--did not apply to existing inventory, i.e., the stuff on the shelves and in the warehouses right now. It totally does, says the judge. And all that stuff will be illegal to sell as of Tuesday.

What products and companies will be affected? Who knows? I'd hope that by now, any company with plastic or vinyl products knows if their products contain phthalates, if only because their manufacturing process is supposed to go phthalate-free in five days. But does that mean they know enough to tell retailers and distributors which products to pull off the shelves? What about those random plastic things from ye random Hong Kong toymaker? It's not like store managers have had a peaceful, contented few months to contemplate the chemical makeup of their bath toy department.

Unless retailers and producers had some contingency plan in place, the next few days could be a frenzied shitstorm of shelf-clearing and triage. Maybe retailers will have a fire sale, but what are they going to say? "Quick, buy this product before it's declared a health hazard!"? "One more plastic toy probably won't give your kid get testicular cancer!"

If only the government would set up a bailout fund for the Kid Industrial Complex, and help them clear the toxic assets [no kidding this time] from their books--or at least help them ship the stuff to some hapless foreign country with an underdeveloped regulatory regime.

Court Agrees: Phthalates are banned from toys effective next week! [nrdc.org via their publicist]
Download the Court's CPSC smackdown in PDF [daddytypes]


The other thing that contains phthalates (or used to until a few weeks ago) is the lacquer used to finish most furniture. Some finish suppliers still haven't figured out how to eliminate them. "Shitstorm" is exactly the right word.

The thing is, people can comply with just about any rule if you let them know what the rule is going to be, and give them a reasonable amount of time to figure out how to make it work. This legislation was rushed out, and the interpretations from the people who have to enforce it have been rushed out, contradictory and haphazard. And they are still changing- less than a week before the effective date! And we have more and more states rushing out their own versions of poorly-thought out and implemented regulations.

It's easy for someone in Congress or sitting on a bench to tell you that the millions of dollars of inventory you are sitting on is now worth zero dollars. Recessions don't affect them. If they spend too much on hookers and blow and start to run low on money, they can just print some more, or cheat on their taxes.

It sucks people are losing money over this, but you're selling an unsafe product. As a parent I don't have a lot of sympathy. Rushed out is exactly what we need.

Again, let me explain to you business owners. The problem is that Congress didn't role out these rules fast enough. There have been rumors of problems and scientific reports for years. Walmart voluntarily pulled these products off their shelves years ago.

The problem is that the previous administration suppressed and manipulated scientific data. The problem is that our import and manufacturing standards are far too lax. The problem is not that the Congress is making you stop selling an unsafe product too quickly to get rid of excess inventory.

The public does not want you to have time to sell excess inventory. They want it recycled or in a dump. Because it's unsafe.

Keep toxic phthalates out of our landfills!

You make it sound like this is a rule banning razor blades in plush animals. I'm not talking about solid phthalate pacifiers, but furniture. Cribs occasionally get licked or nibbled on- is that level of phthalate exposure worth dumping it all in a landfill? Maybe it is, I don't know. But I also know there's a lot more of the stuff floating around in the environment that is untouched by these regulations. It's in damn near everything, and will continue to be, and as a consumer you have no way of knowing where it is. Banning it from a tiny slice of products and leaving it in everything else is feel-good regulatory theater.

Regardless, my problem is more the implementation. Set a rule and stick to it. Even if the rule is don't sell anything containing phthalates after February of 2009, people can work with that. But not when it's announced in February of 2009.

This is great. I would recommend natural or organic bedding for anyone's child to avoid this whole conundrum. Check out www.whitelotus.net for natural and organic crib mattresses, so you don't have to worry about poisoning your kids OR dumping a bunch of plastics in the landfill.

yeah, now I stay awake nights worrying that the kids' crib mattress is poisoning her. thanks!

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