New lead-testing law doesn't apply to thrift, consignment stores

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thrift and consignment stores do not have to comply with a new law requiring retailers to test children's merchandise for lead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission determined this week.

Before the announcement, area thrift retailers had expressed concern about the legislation, saying they couldn't afford to test items and that the law may put them out of business. The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association estimates testing for lead would cost between $400 for a smaller item to thousands of dollars for larger items.

"We're relieved at the moment," said Sheila Kaiser, manager of the Teen Challenge thrift store in Cape Girardeau. "When you're working with volunteers, it's impossible to check what all is sold at our store. I was really afraid this law would hurt us, but I'm happy for Teen Challenge's sake."

Passed by Congress last year, the Consumer Product Safety Information Act will make it illegal for retailers to sell clothes, toys and shoes to children younger than 12 that had not been tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics pliable.

The act, which goes into effect Feb. 10, was signed into law in 2008 because of numerous children's product recalls. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson was among those in Congress who voted for the bill.

Retailers, including some in Southeast Missouri, flooded the Consumer Product Safety Commission office with phone calls and e-mail complaints about the legislation throughout the week. Jeffrey Connor, spokesman for Emerson's office, said he had received numerous calls from Southeast Missouri business owners concerned about the bill. He said the congresswoman had no comment about the issue until she was able to study it more closely.

The commission issued a statement Thursday saying that "sellers of used children's products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits ... or new toy standards."

The statement said the agency "intends to focus its enforcement efforts on products of greatest risk and largest exposure." However, retailers still could face prosecution if they sell merchandise with high amounts of lead. The agency said products with a greater risk for lead contamination include children's jewelry and painted wooden and metal toys.

Crissy Batchelor, owner of Kids Wear Again in Cape Girardeau, said the law is commendable but that it would have put many consignment and thrift stores that sold children's items out of business. Batchelor said she has always made a conscientious effort to ensure all her items for sale were lead-free.

"For some store owners that may cause some inconvenience, but I simply cannot stress enough that at Kids Wear Again we have been keeping unsafe merchandise off our shelves for years," Batchelor said. "After generations of being in business, our customers are our family and we want them as safe as our own kids."

bblackwell@semissourian.com

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