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It’s happening once again. Amidst the tanking economy, I’m stunned to introduce HR 4040, the Consumer Product Safety “Improvement” Act of 2008. It is without question one of the most amazing pieces of horse manure ever to get signed into law. Allegedly kind and benign on the surface (after all, it’s …for the children!), in reality it imposes such strict and unrealistic testing requirements for lead and other contaminates on any and all children’s products, that in one stroke it shuts down entire industries.

We’re talking all children’s products. Clothing. Toys. Books. Furniture. CDs. DVDs. Anything, in fact, that children will use is now banned unless it’s brand new and/or certified toxin-free.

You think I’m fooling, right? You think I’m exaggerating? How I wish I were. Read it for yourself. Here’s an excellent summary that explains it in English rather than Politicalese. Here’s an L.A. Times article article that discusses it.

This came about after the rash of (mostly) Chinese-made toys contaminated by lead paint that flooded the U.S. last year. Forty-five million toys were recalled. In a knee-jerk response to these legitimate safety concerns – and rather than doing something sensible, like banning imports of Chinese-made toys unless they passed scrutiny – our benevolent government decided instead to ban all sales of children’s items unless they pass inspection. “Inspection,” by the way, means independent third-party testing and certification for each and every item sold. Every single pair of children’s jeans that sells at Goodwill for $1.99 must be tested at a cost of oh, say, $150 apiece. Move over to the next pair of jeans on the rack, and unless they are exactly, precisely the same (including the same size), then you’re looking at another test requirement. Stooooopid.

So if these items can no longer be sold, what happens to them? Elementary, my dear Watson. All these items must be thrown away. Not sold, not traded, not given. Thrown.

The environmental impacts are staggering. Walk into any large thrift store and look at the racks and racks of children’s clothes. See the huge numbers of books. Look at the shelves of children’s shoes. Browse the departments full of furniture. Now gather up every last item – everything – and throw it in the landfill. Multiply this by every thrift store in every city – as well as every mom-and-pop establishment specializing in gently-used children’s products – and you have what amounts to a landfill crisis. This isn’t speculation, folks. By law, this is what must happen. Environmentalists should be screaming over this. They have every right to.

In fact, someone’s been screaming because news just came down that thrift and consignment stores are now exempt from this ban on selling untested clothing. While I’m relieved to hear this rather arbitrary decision, it doesn’t lift the law from small businesses that sell new clothing and children’s products. Every little home business that makes, say, diaper wraps or cloth dolls or wooden toys or modest clothing for girls is going down the tubes.

If you are “caught” racketeering in illegal children’s products, you can be fined upwards of $100,000 and receive possible jail time. Craft fairs are going to tank. Grandpa can no longer make toys in his workshop. Grandma had better not sew any dolls’ clothes. Yeah, great idea – let’s turn our seniors into criminals.

The problem lies in HR 4040′s broad wording. Rather than specifying specific problem sources (such as China) and imposing regulations on those sources, it targets every possible seller of children’s books, toys, clothing, shoes, furniture, CDs, DVDs, etc. Everything. Yard sales. eBay. Amazon.com. Craig’s List. Library sales. Even Freecycle.

So in an economy that is shaky to the point of depression, our government – in one stroke of the pen – is looking at bankrupting an enormous sector of our population and causing extreme hardship for the rest.

The creepy thing is how few people were aware this law existed; otherwise the protests would have started long before this. The term “sneaky” comes to mind. Suddenly, we are faced with a deadline only weeks away (Feb. 10). This is gonna take a lot of screaming if we’re going to get this law modified or (better) revoked.

There have been some modest concessions. It’s been acknowledged – duh – that some things just don’t contain lead, such as wood, cotton, silk, wool, hemp, flax and linen. So far, it appears that products made of these items won’t require testing.

But wait, there’s more. Let’s say you sew an organic cotton dress for a child, but you use polyester thread. Alarm! Alarm! Now the garment needs testing! And heaven forbid if you put snaps, a zipper, or buttons on that dress. Those individual components will need to be tested. By independent third-party labs. At exorbitant costs. And if you make another cotton dress, then that dress must be independently tested too. See how this works?

Naturally, anything made with “mixed” fabrics, i.e. a cotton-polyester blend, will have to be tested.

And books, for Pete’s sake. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than going to a library sale and buying armfuls of beautiful, used books to enrich my children’s minds through literature. But literacy is now less important than the remote possibility my 10-year-old daughter will eat her books and become sick. So books will be subject to testing because of the component parts – glue, bindings, paper, inks. Libraries can no longer hold book sales because children’s books might be sold. Used bookstores would have to dump all their children’s selections. Amazon.com has already notified its vendors that they must comply with the new law by providing lead-testing certificates. There can be no more homeschool curriculum fairs because used books change hands all the time. See how this works?

This is lunacy. Absolute pure lunacy.

Normally I don’t put out a call to action in my columns, but this piece of bullpoop can’t be ignored. I’m serious, folks – this will bankrupt huge industries, small businesses and individuals. If you’re low-income, it means your children will be dressed in rags because you can’t afford to buy new clothes, especially clothes with a jacked-up price tag reflecting the new testing requirements.

Remember this – whenever you hear somebody bleating, “But … it’s for the children!“, you can assume they’re telling the adults to go to hell.

Call to action

  • E-mail your representative and remind him or her that we don’t vote for people who bankrupt our nation. If words fail you, here’s a sample letter you can follow.

  • Call your senators. Naturally, you won’t get to talk directly with them, but an assistant will answer the phone. If you’re nervous, prepare a script in advance and always be polite. But these idiots … er, elected officials will only understand the depth of our anger if we flood the phone lines.
  • Send a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Be polite (cuss words aren’t polite, tempting as they may be), but pin their ears back by informing them what compliance with this law will do to the economy. Like they care.
  • Sign the petition. Pass it on to friends.
  • Spread the word. Only by passing the word can we multiply the strength of our protests.

My deepest thanks to the readers who brought this issue to my attention.

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