President signs bill designed to fix problems with CPSC reform law

Lost among the noise surrounding the debt-ceiling controversy in early August, Congress passed a bill designed to fix many of the issues that had plagued implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA).  Following bipartisan and near unanimous passage by Congress, President Obama signed the bill into law last Friday.  The CPSIA amendments address a number of flaws or unintended consequences of the 2008 law, particularly provisions that proved too costly for small businesses to implement or that were simply impractical or disproportionate to the perceived risk.  Some parts of the law clarify that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has the authority to implement the law in a common-sense way.  The new law’s key provisions include the following:

  • Lead limits – The 100 parts per million (ppm) limit for lead content that went into effect August 14, 2011, for children’s products will apply to products manufactured after that date and will not apply to products in inventory.  The law also clarifies that the lead limits will not apply to used products donated to charities or sold through second-hand stores, thrift shops, or by individuals.  The new law also clarifies that publishers do not have to test ordinary books for lead content.
  • Phthalates – The 2008 law placed limits on four types of phthalates (additives that make plastics pliable) that can be used in toys and child-care products.  The new law clarifies that mandatory testing for phthalates is only required for products or components that are likely to contain phthalates.  The new law also exempts inaccessible parts of a product from the phthalates limits.  This makes the phthalates requirements consistent with the lead limits in the 2008 law, which exempted inaccessible parts from the lead restrictions.
  • Tracking labels – The new law allows the CPSC to exempt certain products from the need for mandatory tracking labels if such labels prove impractical.
  • Consumer database – The new law builds in more time for the CPSC to track down inaccurate information or a product’s model and serial number before publishing a consumer complaint in its public database.
  • Mandatory third-party testing – The new law prompts the CPSC to make a number of changes to its requirements for product testing, including provisions that allowing the agency to exempt small batch manufacturers and requiring the CPSC to report to Congress on ways to reduce the testing burden on businesses.
  • Bicycles and off-road vehicles – The new law sets a more permissive lead limit for metal components of bikes, relaxes the third-party testing requirements for bikes, exempts all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) from the lead limits, and requires the CPSC to adopt a new ATV safety standard within one year.
  • Standards for durable nursery products and toys – The new law establishes a procedure for the CPSC to evaluate updates to voluntary industry standards that it has adopted as its own.  It also clarifies that toys that comply with certain requirements of the Food and Drug Administration are not also directly regulated under the toy safety standard (known as ASTM 963) adopted by the CPSC.

While some provisions in the law directly amend existing laws and regulations, for the most part the law simply empowers the CPSC to adopt regulations exempting certain products or component parts from regulation.  Whether and how the CPSC will use this power remains to be seen.