How CPSIA hits one small business owner

posted at 12:00 pm on August 22, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

After I wrote my post yesterday on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and the not-so-subtle warning to private resellers at yard sales and church bazaars, I received an interesting e-mail from Suzi Lang, the owner of Star Bright Baby.  Suzi hand-makes toys and teething rings for babies and toddlers, but her business is now in jeopardy, thanks to the badly-written CPSIA.  Suzi explains in her e-mail:

Hi Ed-

Thanks for posting about the CPSIA.  Garage Sale police aren’t the only insane parts of this law…  I make and sell small stuffed teething giraffes for babies (or anyone else cutting a tooth).  My giraffes are made from 100% cotton fabric, stuffing made from a synthetic fiber made from corn, and thread.  That’s it.  Nothing toxic about that, right?  Well, according to the law, I have to lead test each batch of giraffes I make.  I make them in batches of 10-12 because I’m a small time producer (and I get bored easily).  That’s about $300-500 per batch.  BUT I also have to test them for a plastic additive called Phthalates because the item is intended to go in a baby’s mouth.  Never mind the fact that there is nothing plastic in any of the materials I use to make my giraffes.  That’s about $800-1200 per batch.  Now you’re talking a pretty expensive teething toy.

I testified before a subcommittee of the Small Business Committee in the house in May, and there have been some exceptions made to the law by the CPSC in how they’re going to enforce it, but the law also deputizes every single state Attorney General to go after offenders.  By law I’m still not in compliance.

The sad thing is that this hits little old ladies that make blankies and lovies to give away to kids in the ER.  And the little hats they knit for newborns in the hospital.  It hits small potatoes businesses like mine who already make safe products.  It’s sad, really.  And the law does absolutely nothing to keep kids safer than they were under the original lead laws.

Oh, and the companies like Mattel who imported all the lead-tainted toys that started this fuss?  They get to police themselves.  Awesome, huh?

Thanks again for highlighting this stupid law on Hotair.

–Suzi Lang
Starbright Baby Teething Giraffes

The big manufacturers and importers get to police themselves.  Suzi, on the other hand, has to pay a fortune to test her products even though she knows exactly what goes into them.  Gee, I can feel my granddaughters getting safer already!

Suzi also sent me a link to her Congressional testimony from May:

Suzi also sent a copy of her opening statement; you can download it as a PDF here.

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WE the people have given up this country inch by inch. Oh what is this one little law not a big thing and it will help someone out. Sense the Great Depression we have willingly given up our freedom, have relied on the Govt more and more because it was easy and we were busy.

NO MORE I say. We have a congress that thinks we are their peasants,half of our supreme court thinks nothing of our constitution, and the Pres who is a socialist. We have the highest business TAX than any other western country. NO MORE I SAY.

Teleycoman on August 22, 2009 at 5:06 PM

Pres who is a socialist marxist


Onager on August 22, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Thank you for sharing your story Suzi! Like you, the handcrafted soap industry was hit hard by the CPSIA. One large supplier of soapmaking ingredients hired a lobbyist on our behalf. Many soapmakers aligned themselves with the Handmade Toy Alliance. The Hand Made Soap Guild and Indie Beauty Network met with representives in DC to try and bring some common sense to this law. We are all in agreement about prohibiting lead and pthalates in products for children but this was a poorly written law. Many soapmakers quit making products for children. Who ever thought that a rubber ducky soap would become contraband?
Or that a granny would be prohibited from giving handmade blankets or toys to a local charity? What disturbs me most is that handcrafters are filling a niche market with high quality items yet face exorbitant test fees while the culprits who caused this mess get to regulate themselves. Our lawmakers in DC are so far removed from reality that they didn’t even understand the implications of this law.

Furthermore, another law in the works, the FDA Globalization ACT, was put on hold. It was to require extensive testing for imported food, cosmetics, toiletries and ingredients, etc. Under that act if I bought something such as shea butter I would be required to pay a $10,000 import fee per year. Grocers protested loudly. Think about all the items you buy in your local grocery store that would be subject to the import fees!

GrannySunni on August 22, 2009 at 5:19 PM

This reminds of the woman in Pennsylvania who began selling items on eBay in order to support her sick son. She became so good at it that the state of Pennsylvania decided that she needed to pay an auctioneer tax. The perverse kicker is that there wasn’t any agency authorized to accept her tax payment–in essence, she owed a tax, but to no one in particular. As a result, she can’t do eBay to the same extent until Pennsylvania figures out how she can pay the tax.

Bill Ramey on August 22, 2009 at 5:31 PM

Lets see if I understand this. China puts poison in pet food and lead paint in toy they export to us. Therefore we must destroy small business’s in the U.S.

agmartin on August 22, 2009 at 6:04 PM

She’s wonderful. Is she single?

She’d be a great catch for the Sapwolf.


Sapwolf on August 22, 2009 at 6:23 PM


Hey, by the way, I shopped at Whole Foods again today while wearing my McCain/Palin T-shirt.

Man, not exactly a sign saying “I voted for the other guy” at a 1930’s Nazi rally at Nuremburg, but still puts a noticeable extra bounce in your day.

Sapwolf on August 22, 2009 at 6:26 PM

Suzi, Keep making the teething giraffes. This would be the time to push for a repeal of this stupid law. With all the push back on Obama’s Healthcare BS, the repeal of this stupid law could ride healthcare’s coattails.

PappaMac on August 22, 2009 at 7:00 PM

I’m surprised there’s not an exclusion in the bill (maybe they could handle it that way) to allow folks at her level of production an exemption.

And yet, there is no such exclusion. This was deliberate, not an oversight. Exclusions for microbusinesses and charities were requested- and denied. The organizations that lobbied for this bill (PIRG and Public Citizen are two examples) insisted that no exclusions be permitted. They also argued for the lead and phthalates bans to be retroactive, the lead law to be applied to ALL products for children 12 and under (originally it was to be for much younger children), and the phthalates ban also has a wider scope thanks to them.

DeputyHeadmistress on August 22, 2009 at 7:05 PM

Smells to me of the Mattels of the world buying legislation to crush the little guy. Equal protection under the law….pshhhhh.

Patrick S on August 22, 2009 at 12:21 PM


– The Cat

MirCat on August 22, 2009 at 7:11 PM

The law needs to be changed to say that *plastic* items need to be tested for phthalates, not everything that goes in a baby’s mouth no matter what it is made of.

Starfox5253 on August 22, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Ms. Lang,

I think if you reread my post, you will see we agree. That is why I mentioned MSDS–the manufacturers of the raw materials should have one if there is a hazardous material at the plant going into the final product. This is the certification method that will prevent testing from being required at all—it’s a documentary method that should already be happening, though I do not work in the manufacturing side of industry, and definitely not the textile industries, and thus cannot say with 100% assurance.

The proponents of the bill will say they want everything tested “just to be safe”, but that is asinine, because it basically presumes the supplier or manufacturer is lying. In that case, the only way to insure absolute safety is to test every square inch of every product, because if you can’t trust the manufacturer or supplier when they say there are no hazardous materials present, neither can you trust them that the sample or item tested is actually representative. This is economic madness. I am fairly sure a simple, non-onerous way can be found to prevent both physical death by modern chemical and economic death by modern regulation.

The real problem here seems to me that there are too many staffers in Washington writing too much legislation, often unseen and in the dark, and they often do not possess the wide range of experience needed to know how legislation affects the country. Given a choice between getting rid of the pols or the staffers, I’d probably pick the staffers, because that would then limit the damage the pols could do.

Horatius on August 22, 2009 at 8:23 PM

The CPSIA was passed almost unanimously 89-3 in the Senate and with only 1 no vote in the house (Ron Paul, if you really want to know) and signed into law by George Bush in August 2008.

If you want to see the wholesale ineptitude of our lawmakers in killing American home-based businesses, you need look no further than this law.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle wanted to feel good about themselves that they were protecting children from lead poisoning. The problem is that they farmed the writing of this law to bureaucrats who had not the slightest clue of what they kind of needless wreckage they were causing to a huge percentage of America’s family-run micro-businesses.

Edouard on August 22, 2009 at 9:19 PM

One more note about the CPSIA — it is now ILLEGAL TO SELL CHILDREN’S BOOKS PUBLISHED PRIOR TO 1985 if they have not been tested for the lead content in their ink.

Children’s books older than 24 years old must now contain less than 300 parts-per-million of lead in their ink AND TESTED TO PROVE AS MUCH before they can be legally sold.

Violators of this law face crushing fines of up to $100,000. This includes many micro-scale bookselling businesses run by hardworking, children’s book-loving moms.

The problem is that there is not a single proven case of a child ever contracting lead-poisoning from a book.

The child would have to chew up and physically ingest the book. Or perhaps spend all day licking his or her fingers and rubbing the ink on old-book illustratsions, and sucking and swallowing the ink to have even a snowball’s chance in hell of being lead poisoned.

The CPSIA is a truly insane law.

Edouard on August 22, 2009 at 9:24 PM

Isn’t allowing Mattel to “police themselves” how we got all of those lead tainted toys in the first place???

darwin-t on August 22, 2009 at 9:50 PM

Oh, this must be the same law that forbids dealers from selling small motorcycles to kids because the may have lead in some parts. I remember when it went into effect – dealers were stuck with a lot of stock that they couldn’t sell any more.

darwin-t on August 22, 2009 at 9:56 PM

Oh, as a final note–I see nothing in this bill that demands a federal solution. If the solution that this bill represents to be is so obvious, then its virtues will be recognized by the state legislatures and so adopted. However, if it be not a good solution, then the damage, instead of being limited to a small portion of the Republic, will have been spread over the entire commonwealth.

As far as regulation of interstate commerce, there is no need. If one state has stricter strictures, then the proponents of this bill would be for those strictures and would not force that state to take that merchandise it would otherwise wish to not have. If the state has less strident standards, then if that is in error then it will effect that state only, as merchandise from that state will not be able to be sold in other states. Likewise for foreign imports. They will not be welcome in states that wish to have bills such as this, and thus those that wish to have a higher level of safety shall have it, without the actions of the Federal Congress. Businesses that wish to have nationwide standards can simply adopt the strictest of the states, which would give them the same functional result as this bill does. Federal intervention is needed only when one state imposes such onerous standards so as to so disrupt the nationwide economy of scale that it demands a Federal solution in lowering, not raising, the nationwide bar. For to raise it would make no sense, as there would then be no complaint from businesses seeking a uniform standard, as they would already be meeting it in order to sell in that state. In that case, the only reason for them to wish for a higher standard nationwide would be to impose higher costs upon their competitors who have chosen to forsake the markets of states with higher standards. This complaint we can safely ignore, as rent-seeking is not one of the enumerated powers…

Thus, I say again, that this is a legitimate function of government that is nevertheless best left for the state level, so as to prevent the exact kind of problem encountered here–the imposing of laws with no idea or concern for their effects on the local level, and with only limited ability for the people to affect these laws, due to the very large numbers of members in a Federal district, and the many tasks the Federal Congress has decided to engage itself upon. If this is to be the standard operating procedure, then at some point we are going to have to address whether we truly wish a Federal Representative democracy at all, or instead we wish to start using the tools of modern psychology to identify our philosopher-kings early, and train them for the regency that is to be theirs…

I assume that some may get the point I just made–whether or not they believe the citizens of a state have a right to practice popular sovereignty within their state, without the great benefit of the many well-meaning from outside their state. At some point in time the proponents of measures such as this will have to address whether or not they have any confidence at all that there is any wisdom at all in the States. If not, then I ask why stop at this bill? Why not abolish the states altogether? But if there is wisdom in the states, than surely, every so often, we can trust them to look after their own citizens, whom they are closer to in both economic and physical terms. In other words, if a bill is a good that is blindingly obvious, then instead of the blind leading the blind, we should let the states do it, as the level of representation there is closer to the people, and the size of the states has grown such that any fears that Madison’s Federalist #10 will not be in effect will prove to be groundless.

Thus, in short, I propose as a general principle that if a law is something that a state government could easily do, that it be allowed to do it, and that the Federal Congress limit itself to those things that it alone can do. If the people cannot govern themselves on the state level, then they cannot do so on the national level, and we are wasting our time with a Republic. I do not believe this, and thus the time for bills like this needs to come to an end.

Horatius on August 22, 2009 at 10:12 PM

Oh, and time does not permit, but someone remind me some time to do something on the principle of Debye Shielding, activists, and the large number of constituents in a district. Still noodling that one, but basically, a district can get so large that the citizens as a mass have no influence, since they cancel each other out, except for those who are within a circle of certain size, and that unfortunately that circle has come to be faction and party.

Horatius on August 22, 2009 at 10:19 PM

Dem Congress: We don’t need no stinkin entrepreneurs.

elclynn on August 22, 2009 at 10:53 PM

Every time I read about this, I can’t help but see it as CPUSA. Freudian, maybe?

bikermailman on August 22, 2009 at 11:01 PM

As a coincidence, I just stumbled across the following quote from Madison, Federalist #14 (I’ve just started a reading program for the Federalist Papers, having really only ever read #10, and that was nearly 20 years ago…). The emphasis is mine.

“In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its juridstiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be obtained by the seperate provisions of any. The subordinate governments, which can extend their care to all those other objects which can be seperately provided for, will retain their due authority and activity.”

In short, laws like CPSIA often exist because activists, rather than attempting the much harder effort of trying to use logic and reason to persuade their fellow citizens of the superiority of their solution state by state, have decided that only a majority of 535 need to be concerned with the affair.

A Republic of 300 million will not long exist if every daily aspect of life is to be regulated by such a small number of individuals.

Horatius on August 22, 2009 at 11:09 PM

IMHO, the best thing that this woman can do is to continue to make her teething giraffes, knowing that she’s in violation of the law. The Institute for Justice or other legal organisations would happily defend her should someone be so misguided as to go after a small-time organic toy maker for not lead-testing her products. Even if their legal position were untenable, the media frenzy that would result would be enough to get the government to drop the case and re-do the law.

Roxeanne de Luca on August 22, 2009 at 11:58 PM

The left gets a lot of mileage out of the assumption that big companies are free market enthusiasts. Big companies love government involvement with business and they regard regulatory costs as barriers to new competitors from entering their markets.

On a small scale this means taxi cab companies support ordinances that require expensive hack licenses and prohibit jitney and car services.

On a big scale it’s Mattel and China Inc. that get to write the laws to shaft small toy companies.

I have a small embroidery shop, I suppose the CPSIA means I can’t embroidery baby bibs or blankets without testing the rayon or polyester thread for lead.

This is a feature, not a bug. The regulators and statists want to make it impossible to start your own company, earn your own income, and stay off the grid as much as you can. They want to kill small businesses. That’s why Obama wants to tax successful small business owners and tax estates.

rokemronnie on August 23, 2009 at 12:24 AM

Presumably, the Dems want to put small businesses out of business because they tend to be nonunion and some belong to the National Federation of Independent Business which opposes many Democrate initiatives rather than run ads in favor of them like GE

KW64 on August 23, 2009 at 1:22 AM

Now reading Federalist #39, and it occurred to me after reading the following passage, on the differences between national and federal governments:

“In the former case, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme; and may be controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure. In the latter, the local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the supremacy, no more subject, within their respective spheres, to the general authority, than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere…It is true that in controversies relating to the boundaries between the two jurisdictions, the tribunal which is ultimately to decide, is to be established under the general government.”

Now, I, in other places have commented on the need for a third legislative body, the Tribunate, with myriad powers and roles that I will not go into here. It in general had no role in the legislative process. However, as an idea, I propose to modify my original proposal by having the Tribunate rule on whether or not the other two branches should proceed with pieces of legislation—i.e. do they have the power to do so, or should they do so.

Since I see the Tribunate as putting states back into the mix by the way its members are appointed/elected, it would involve both legal and political questions of whether or not the other two branches should pursue legislation that might be best handled on the state level, and thus does not merely replicate the Supreme Court’s role in determining Constitutionality.

The Tribunate would thus act like the legislative equivalent of the grand jury, killing legislation that Congress has no business being involved in by ruling it out of bounds of the Congressional portfolio. It would otherwise have no role in the legislative process.

Like I said, an idea in progress…

Horatius on August 23, 2009 at 1:34 AM

May I go out on a limb here and say that if the woman had tried to stay in compliance, or had been prosecuted, her business would have died.

So, in essence, the new law, regardless of the authors intentions, held in its bowels, “a death panel.”

I’m just saying…

archer52 on August 23, 2009 at 7:31 AM

All 435 members of the US House need to be thrown out in 2010 and replaced by non-lawyers.

LonelyMassRepublican on August 23, 2009 at 8:43 AM

So, in essence, the new law, regardless of the authors intentions, held in its bowels, “a death panel.”

I’m just saying…

archer52 on August 23, 2009 at 7:31 AM

I agree except that I consider the effects to be intentional.

I don’t think the lawyers who are serving as our senators and reps. don’t know what they’re doing. The lead & melamine “Crisis” caused by large corporations subbing out to Chinese manufacturers results in a law which eliminates their smaller competitors. The very companies that killed our cats and poisoned our kids is profiting from this law.

That’s not an accident. That’s the epitome of not “letting a good crisis go to waste”. We are being ruled by a fascist government.

rcl on August 23, 2009 at 9:43 AM

American industry has pretty much had lead legislated out of it’s consumer products over the last twenty years. (as well as Mercury, Cadmium, and Chromium) It was the introduction of massive amounts of Chinese products which are not manufactured under the same regulations, that brought the problem back, but of course Americans will pay again.

CPSIA is poorly thought out. It was rushed through congress like a cure for plague with a lot of “subject ignorant” politicians bobbbling their heads like lemmings. There’s been a lot of complaint from the manufacturing sector about this law but this type of regulation takes a lot of scrutiny and work and congress is backing out the back door. What’s new?

Put it out there. Let industry do the washing. Well, it’s not going to work this time.

Ernest on August 23, 2009 at 10:10 AM

Ed, I really don’t like this legislation, and certainly feel for this woman and others in a similar situation, but – with all due respect to both you and she – at $4500 gross revenue, and with the number of units she ‘manufactures’, “hobbyist” probably describes her better than “small business owner”.

I’m surprised there’s not an exclusion in the bill (maybe they could handle it that way) to allow folks at her level of production an exemption.

Midas on August 22, 2009 at 12:45 PM

Hell they’re going after garage sales now. It will only get worse.

Dasher on August 23, 2009 at 10:21 AM

Liberal busybody politicians claim they are protecting the “little guy” from evil big corporations. Then why does it seem every pass regulatory and union law they pass harms small businesses the most?

AaronGuzman on August 23, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Small manufacturers aren’t properly unionized.
Govt solution, drive them all out of business.

MarkTheGreat on August 24, 2009 at 9:17 AM

GrannySunni on August 22, 2009 at 5:19 PM

There is not, and never has been any evidence that the pthalates in children’s toys caused a problem for anyone.

MarkTheGreat on August 24, 2009 at 9:19 AM

Yes, let’s drive these evil americans out of business and have the jobs again shipped to China, whose companies are so much more trustworthy and don’t ever sell products in the US with any bad chemicals on them.


Pretty soon, there might not be much good left in this country to defend.

ChristianRock on August 24, 2009 at 10:52 AM