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Impact of New Safety Act Stretches Far and Wide
From Marketwise
By Ken Hein
March 2009

Manufacturers of everything from children’s books to boutique apparel were in a froth leading up to the February 10 implementation of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Passed by Congress last year, the act forbids the sale of goods that contains more than 600 parts per million of lead that are aimed at children under 12. The law is meant to protect children from any potential neurological damage and other hazards caused by exposure to lead.

Such a wide-reaching measure could have a profound impact on promotional products manufacturers that produce children’s items. Ad specialties "still have to be certified. … It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility," says Liz Hitchcock of the Public Interest Research Group in Washington, D.C. "The product safety bill was a response to the vast number of recalls of children’s products because of lead. It placed a bright light on the fact that our children’s safety net was terribly broken."    
Many overlooked categories were feeling the heat of this spotlight. The Association of American Publishers was pushing for exemption of children’s books right up to the wire, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Meanwhile, shop owners in California’s garment district held their breath as garments were scanned with an XRF Analyzer, according to the Los Angeles Times. If the buzzer sounded, the item was to be shipped back to the manufacturer.

Many products in the ad specialty industry are aimed at children, meaning both distributors and suppliers will greatly feel the effects of the CPSIA. A recent press kit from Cuties citrus fruit included everything from bracelets to shirts to a refrigerated ice pack. All of these items must now be certified as being lead free (or at least at an acceptable level) or they will be in violation.

"The best way into a person’s heart is through their child," says Bob Distefano, owner of Heritage Advertising (asi/224850). "So it makes sense to target them." He has done work for school groups, sporting events and museum gift shops.

Distefano says the previous outcry over plastic water bottles has educated some distributors. He began selling products that do not contain any questionable materials. "I’m particularly careful with both my clients and my suppliers," he says. "I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. I have an obligation to be proactive."

Stephanie Hendricks says the act is a necessary step toward a safer future. Hendricks does advocacy work with scientists and physicians regarding toxic chemical issues. "If you’re giving away a rubber ducky aimed at babies that’s full of phthalates, they will stick them in their mouth," she says. "They are very vulnerable to neurological issues caused by lead. It’s going to take generations to bring down the disease and neurological disorders caused by lead."

Hendricks does feel for small businesses that will run up against new challenges caused by the CPSIA. "I would love to see bailouts for small businesses like they did with the banking industry so they could transition to safer products," she says.

However, Hitchcock says that both manufacturers and providers of these products have run out of time to ensure that their products comply with the new laws. "The grace period is up," she says. "Sellers have the responsibility to not sell uncertified products." – KH

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