New law has area retailers concerned with getting the lead out

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By John Barnhart

A new law called the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) went into effect last month.

    The law sets new limits for lead content for products primarily intended for children under 12 and requires certification that these products meet the new standard. The law is retroactive, applying to products made before Feb. 10, the day the law took effect.

    Whether new lead rules will pose a heavy burden depends on who you talk to.

    Bill Mosley, of Bedford Hardware, said that the primary toy the store handles is a Radio Flyer wagon. Back in 2007 a problem rose with high lead levels in toys made in China that caused retailers to pull toys from the shelves before Christmas, Mosley contacted the wagons’ manufacturer. He received a letter stating that these wagons comply with American lead content standards.

    The issue, however, is more complicated for Peter Viemeister, owner of Hamilton’s. Hamilton's sells older items, including vintage toys.

    “I would expect for very rare toys to be exempt,” Viemeister said. “Children don’t buy them, adult collectors buy them.”

    On the other hand, small store owners can only feel safe if the manufacturer tests the toys, he noted. In cases where test data is not readily available, such as when a toy’s manufacturer no longer exists, a small shop owner could be stuck with items he can’t sell.

    “I have many, many little cars,” he said.

    These are not new little cars and in some cases, such as Matchbox cars, the manufacturer no longer is in business. Viemeister said he can’t test those. He also can’t guarantee that a grandparent won’t buy one of these for his grandchildren and worries that he may be open to trouble, even though he doesn’t sell the cars to children. He believes that items over a certain age, where testing is not feasible, should be exempt.

    “I think, like many rules, there needs to be a cutoff date and not count stuff from older dates,” he said.

    “To do something that affects retroactively [to products] is silly,” he said. “New rules should apply from now and not be retroactive.”

    Viemeister said he also has vintage children’s books, including Golden Books from the ‘50s.

    Peggy Bias, director of Bedford’s public library system, said that the American Library Association has been in contact with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The library association has asked for clarification and Bias said it's hearing that the new law doesn’t apply to libraries.

    “It does not apply very well to books,” she said, of the law.

    Goodwill Industries has concerns that go beyond this new law. According to Kelly Sandridge, community relations director for Goodwill of the Valleys which includes the Bedford area, the company has to keep track of consumer recalls. That means keeping logs of items that have been recalled, and there is also a Web site that can be searched to see if a donated item has been recalled.

    Sandridge, however, said that the company is concerned because they have no clear guidelines under the new law. She said that non-profits and resale stores are not required to test items, nor are people who sell items on eBay.

    There is no cheap way to do such tests. Sandridge said that the company has been told by CPSC that home test kits are not effective.

    In the absence of clear guidelines, Goodwill is being careful. The company already does this with some items, such as car seats, cribs and strollers, which have been subject to many recalls. Goodwill doesn’t sell those. It also doesn’t sell items that have small beading as this can be a chocking hazard.

    Due to the lead issue, Goodwill is not selling children’s items that have a lot of metal on them, especially if they were made in China. Sandridge said that although the company isn’t required to test, it is concerned that it could be held accountable if something sold is tested. Goodwill is asking the CPSC for clarification.

    “The recall side is easy,” she said. “You don’t sell anything that’s been recalled.”

    Sandridge said that this is not a problem for donors. If Goodwill determines it can’t sell an item, the company recycles what it can. Last year, Goodwill of the Valleys’ 27 stores earned $8.2 million from salvage and kept 10 million pounds of material out of landfills by recycling.

    Along with recycling items that it can’t sell, the company also takes items specifically to recycle. Goodwill is now recycling computers and computer peripherals. It also recycles small appliances that don’t work, including old toasters. People who donate items to Goodwill get a receipt that they can use for an income tax deduction.

    Goodwill doesn’t currently recycle old televisions, but Sandridge said that it hopes to find somebody who can help with this.

    Smaller concerns are even more in the dark. Rosemary Paulus of Bedford Christian Ministries had not heard of the new rules.

    Neither had Ginger Bell, who owns Bell’s Treasures, a consignment shop on Depot Street. She said that people do bring in items for children and she’s concerned about liability for these consignments. She said she will have to be careful about what is sold to children.

    Kim Cashman, of North Bridge Street Books and Antiques, hadn’t heard of the new rules, either.

    “We don’t sell things for kids to play with,” she commented.

    Most of what they have that are child related are antiques.

    “We don’t sell things thinking kids are going to eat out of antique dishes,” she said.

    Virginia Layne owns Jenny Bug, a consignment shop.

    “There’s something for everyone in here,” she commented.

    She isn’t sure what impact the new law will have on her business.

    “I did away with the toy room,” she said. This was done after the lead scare concerning toys made in China a couple of years ago.

    “There’s not a whole lot of toys in here,” Layne said.

    But, she said that some of the people who rent spaces do have toys for sale. Layne said that a consignment shop depends on selling what people bring in. If people don’t bring in items to sell, there will be very little available.

    “I think it’s going to hurt our business,” she commented.

    According to Patty Davis, a CPSC spokesman, thrift shops are exempt from the testing requirements for lead and phthalates, a plastic softener, that affect manufacturers and importers.

    “We have heard of stores being very cautions,” Davis told the Roanoke Times this week. “It’s probably a good thing. But it may be that a lot of items they are sidelining do not have to be.”