Q: Is the government outlawing the resale of children’s clothing?
A: Not explicitly. A recently passed law won’t ban resale, but it will hold resellers responsible for selling items with lead content that exceeds new limits. Some resellers are fearful this will force them out of business.
Is it true that the government will be outlawing the resale of children’s clothing (by consignment shops or yard sales) beginning Feb. 10, 2009?
This Internet-fueled fear is based on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which President Bush signed into law in August 2008. The bill does not create an explicit ban on the resale of children’s clothing. However, a provision of the bill says that "any children’s product … that contains more lead than the limit … shall be treated as a banned hazardous substance under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act."
The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (the resale industry’s lobbying arm) worried that the law could be interpreted to include their second-hand inventory of clothes and would result in them "all hav[ing] to go to the landfill." The concern spread through the blogosphere, where scores of thrift-store aficionados fretted about doomsday scenarios of consignment stores closing and children’s clothes overrunning garbage dumps. (And one librarian group expressed concern that the law may force libraries to stop maintaining a children’s section or to ban children from the library, for fear of exposure to lead through metal-bound books.)
The Consumer Product Safety Commission attempted to quell the resellers’ fears by clarifying the legislative language with a statement released Jan. 8:
CPSC: 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, phthalates standard or new toy standards. The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
The CPSC statement went on to say children’s items that may contain lead include "children’s jewelry and painted wooden or metal toys." Zippers or buttons on old clothing could also contain lead. But the CPSC release doesn’t refer specifically to resellers of clothing, and while it says resellers won’t have to test their wares, it does say they could face penalties if they sell items that exceed the lead limits. FactCheck called the CPSC press office to try to clarify the rules, but a spokesman wouldn’t answer our questions, referring only to the exact language in the press release.
Another statement from the commission, released on Jan. 30, gave a one-year stay to many manufacturers for the testing and certification requirements. The statement also reiterated the rules for resellers, acknowledging that it’s difficult to figure out whether an item contains too much lead if resellers don’t have to test it:
CPSC: The stay of enforcement on testing and certification does not address thrift and second hand stores and small retailers because they are not required to test and certify products under the CPSIA. The products they sell, including those in inventory on February 10, 2009, must not contain more than 600 ppm lead in any accessible part. The Commission is aware that it is difficult to know whether a product meets the lead standard without testing and has issued guidance for these companies that can be found on our web site.
The "guidance" that the CPSC links to, however, is the Jan. 8 statement, which doesn’t exactly put resellers at ease. We called the press office again several times to try to clarify how the law would affect second-hand clothing, but our calls have not been returned.
– Justin Bank
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission press release, "CPSC Clarifies Requirements of New Children’s Product Safety Laws Taking Effect in February: Guidance Intended for Resellers of Children’s Products, Thrift and Consignment Stores." 8 Jan 2009.
Semuels, Alana, "New safety rules for children’s clothes have stores in a fit." Los Angeles Times. 2 Jan 2009.