Friday, January 16, 2009

Maybe I'm Just Slow But . . . I Don't Get It.

Call me cocky, but I think I understand plain English. English is my first language (my only language aside from the residue of long ago High School French) and I feel like I always have a fighting chance to understand English text, spoken or written.

Unfortunately, I seem to be processing English rather poorly nowadays, at least to judge by my ability to get my head around the proper interpretation of the CPSIA. Congressional leaders claim in writing that there is so much "misinformation" circulating about the law, inducing panic over this wonderful, ground-breaking legislation, that must be corrected. Darn, shame on those people spreading misinformation! Presumably to assist in correcting all the misunderstandings, we are instructed by the CPSC in the following video to not to worry, all will be well.

In this video, Julie Vallese, spokesman for the CPSIA (soon to depart, actually), attempts to "clarify" the total lead requirements and our obligations under the law as of February 10. Given my poor grasp of English, please bear with me, but I think this is what she says:

a. As of February 10, all inventory is subject to the new 600 ppm total lead standard (including existing inventory).

b. Retailers do not have an obligation to test existing inventory for compliance.

c. As a consequence of point a., however, any sales of items violating the lead standard are subject to the full brunt of this law.

d. Retailers should simply exercise business judgment in determining what violates the law and what doesn't. She suggests calling the manufacturer (hey, thrift stores, that sounds like a great idea for you!) or just eyeballing the thing. Oh yeah, the thrift stores can also buy a XRF gun for $50,000 or rent one for $1,500 per week to check used sweaters for lead. The average selling price of a children's garment in the thrift store in the video clip below is $1.25, so a $50,000 instrument will just blend into the cost structure of an average thrift store, no prob.

Okay, I get stuck at this point. You are on the hook for selling something in violation of the CPSIA standards (it is a "knowing" violation if you did not exercise the "due care" of a "reasonable man", see 15 USC 2069(d)), but you have no obligation to test and can just "guess" whether the product is in compliance. But if you guess wrong, they reserve the right to hammer you.

Julie Vallese says this with a smile on her face like we will all understand and take comfort in these words. I don't think it's her fault that she has to defend something that just is indefensibly convoluted - the CPSC didn't write the law but is bound to enforce it regardless of whether it makes ANY sense - but I can't share her sunny confidence that everything is "fine" now. When the first store gets hammered for guessing wrong (Get ready, get set, GO Consumer Groups! Protect us, protect us!!), how useful will Julie's advice seem then? In some ways, the advice of the CPSC is practical - what choice does a thrift store or other retailer have over its existing inventory? We all have to soldier on - the advice of the CPSC seems to be just breathe deep and take a chance on violating the law. Now that's the spirit - let's stop worrying so much, complying with the law is for small-minded people anyhow.

One last thing, the video below accompanied the Julie Vallese interview on WBAL-TV. Please note at the end the reporter states that the CPSC has 100 field investigators - and they will all be out on the street on February 10 presumably looking for you! I suggest you have the milk and cookies ready to make them feel at home.

I wish I understood English better. Clearly there's something I just don't get. Isn't there?



glutenfreegirl said...

100 field investigators...mmm on etsy alone I just came up with over 18k hits for 'baby' alone. EVen taking into consideration multiple listings for sellers...they are probably at least several thousand if not more sellers of baby items ALONE on Mmmm Guess those field investigators will be busy.

Perhaps I"ll just scare them away with my lead infused BABY BIBS!!


Thank you again Rick for trying to help us in this STUPID situation!

Eric H said...

C'mon, Rick, don't you think you're being just a little unfair? After all, she also left open the use of your "level of confidence" as a reasonable test. How much does a Magic 8 Ball cost these days?

Also, since this is reasonable for a reseller, couldn't they extend this to LearningResources? Just a few phone calls to manufacturers to ask them if they use lead in the manufacturing process and you're off the hook!

(What kind of plant is that next to her, and is anyone at CPSC smoking it?)

kathleen said...

My favorite part of Julie's interview was when she suggested thrift store owners should eyeball items and make a "good business decision" as to whether it contains lead or not. Who knew that the preponderance of thrift store owners were chemists or environmental engineers before they entered retailing? What about you Rick? Didn't you tell me you were a chemical engineer? So how does that work? Can't you just look at something and use your x-ray vision to read how much lead is in it? There's your answer, just walk the aisles of your warehouse and scan the pallets.

No offense intended Rick, but I think my analysis of Julie's interview is the most illuminating.

Jennifer said...

I saw that video yesterday. Love her comment on the mommy bloggers giving out misinformation....

Ok, so mommy bloggers are giving out misinformation, the media is doing inaccurate let's know what misinformation is being given out....let's get this clarified!! But did she do that....NO!!! Did we get answers, of course not!

Auralee said...

See peanut butter article below. Is every jar of peanut now being tested for salmonella? How about the little guy selling peanut butter at the local farmer's market? Or grinding your own and the healthfood store down the street. If we hadn't imported all those cheap crummy toys from China, we wouldn't be going through this now. BUY HANDMADE OR BUY AMERICAN

Connie said...

Well, maybe hats and socks. Underwear may contain rubber or latex in the elastic so is therefore suspect. Perhaps all the kids can dress in t-shirts and socks? Maybe even pants held up by fabric belts rather than elastic or zippers? Or would that be a choking hazard?

Nowhere have I found more intelligent writing than this website. It has been a comfort when others tell me that I'm overreacting to this situation. As a childrens resale shop owner, I started out thinking it was strictly a resale issue but now have woken up to the enormity of it.

But it's good to know that Congress has instructed the CPSC to straigten it all out by February 10. You might say that they're telling them to 'get the lead out'.

Someone from The Netherlands said...

"Just a few phone calls to manufacturers to ask them if they use lead in the manufacturing process and you're off the hook!" Yeah, sure. Just a phonecall to a Chinese or Korean manufacturer. They are well-known for their excellent grasp of the English language. BTW; how do you prove to the CPSC inspectors you actually did make that phonecall?