By Chelsey Pletts
More than a month after Congress passed a law prohibiting shops from selling children's products containing high levels of lead, local thrift store owners are still fuzzy about the rules.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which took effect Feb. 10, warns small businesses, thrift shops and manufacturers to make "sound decisions" about the products they are selling for children younger than 12. Items as small as buttons and beads, children's toys and books, child care articles, and clothing are covered under the new law.
Herein lies the confusion, said Liz Moore, owner of Children's Orchard in Danvers.
"Some people interpret it one way or another way," Moore said. "I think the law is good, but there is so much ambiguity regarding it. There are still a lot of things that need to be ironed out."
Jen Bayles, owner of Witch City Consignment and Thrift Store in Salem, just heard about the law.
"Originally, I thought they totally banned children's clothes, that's how I read it," Bayles said. "Everyone's following the rules how they think they should."
The new law leaves businesses with three options: test the product, refuse to sell or accept the product, or contact the manufacturer about the questionable product.
Moore has not removed any items from her shelves, saying she has always been careful about the products she sells and is confident they are within regulation. Plus, Moore said, she keeps up with the ever-changing recall lists online.
The bulk of Bayles' business is selling adult clothes and antiques, but she said she now has to turn away some of her 1,650 consignors who bring in children's toys and clothing, and they aren't too happy about it, she said.
Lisa Suldenski, owner of the secondhand store Just Kidding in Beverly, sells children's and maternity clothing. She said due to the bad economy, business is booming, but the new law will put a damper on things.
"All of a sudden, my consignors are asking if they should check the labels, if I'm not selling things with buttons anymore," Suldenski said. "They're really going nuts with laws and recalls."
The Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps a list of recalled items on its Web site along with guidelines for small businesses, resellers, crafters, charities and even "the mom-and-pop shop on the corner." It states if you are simply adding beads onto a necklace and you give it to a charity, you are considered a manufacturer and therefore affected by the law.
"I've read the guideline online, it's very wordy and complicated," Suldenski said. "I'm worried a little about what it's asking. It would be nice if they made it clearer — I've looked for something simply stated online to print out, and there's nothing."
To avoid penalties, businesses and manufacturers are advised, not required, to test their products using a third-party testing lab for questionable items. Labs can easily detect lead with an X-ray fluorescence machine; testing for phthalates, a group of oily colorless chemicals that are used to make vinyl and plastics soft and flexible, is more costly and difficult.
"It will be a challenge to continue business," Moore said. "It could potentially hurt the small business person."
Patty Davis, a Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman, said the law is not designed to put thrift stores and manufacturers out on the street.
"We are aware that these are tough economic times," Davis said. "We are working to implement this law in the most reasonable way possible."
The law was originally enacted because of deaths related to lead poisoning in children, Davis said.
"This law effectively turns the corner on product safety," Davis said. "The U.S. will have the safest children's products in the world."
The guideline states people can donate children's items as long as they "avoid making and donating children's products with soft vinyl or plastic, buttons or zipper pulls, or metal jewelry or embellishment or other pieces that may exceed the lead or phthalates limits."
Though worry runs high, Moore remained positive about her future.
"I'm confident we're going to weather the change," Moore said. "But some people are running like the sky is falling."
Consumer Product Safety Commission's list of "most wanted" recall items:
Kolcraft Play Yards
Delta Cribs (Spring Peg)
Playskool Tool Benches
A recent recall for products intended for children, March 3: Children's Flip Flop. Manufactured by Alpargatas USA Inc. Recalled because decorative paint on sole of flip-flops can contain levels of lead in excess of federal standard. Sold by department and specialty stores nationwide from November 2006 through February 2009 for about $15 to $24 a pair.
For more information: www.cpsc.gov