At yesterday's hearing, Ranking Member Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) questioned our use of a strange lead label on our rock kits. We mark our rock kits with a label that says “Caution: Federal law requires us to advise that THE ROCKS in this educational product may contain lead and might be harmful if swallowed.” We also mark fossil kits with a similar label. I characterize this label as humiliating to us.
As I often say to people, these labels only tell half the story. We don't warn people to not eat our rocks for the real reason - that they are rocks. Eating rocks can break your teeth. Eating fossils destroys our fossil record, too. This is not a good idea.
Mr. Butterfield questioned whether this label was really a CPSIA issue. I can understand the confusion. As I testified, we have to work hard to master the 3,000+ pages of CPSIA rules and law that pertain to our business. We have 5.5 people in our QC department now, including me, and an outside lawyer to help us, too. After about three years of work, we think we have a pretty good idea about how the rules work. Maybe on a good day . . . .
Much of this gobbledygook makes no sense - and count this example as Exhibit A for nonsense rules. I testified that I did not want to use this label and that we had a one hour conference call with our lawyer over this one label. I was overruled - we had to use it. I was not happy and remain miffed over the label.
Why did we have to do it?
Well, we sell rock kits that are intended for kids and schools. There's no question about that. If you make a product aimed at kids, every part has to be lead-free, even if it's a rock, a fossil or something else made by G-d long before man showed up to roam the Earth. We can't "assure" ourselves that we are selling lead-free rocks because every rock is different. G-d's QC processes predate the CPSIA, you see. Anyhow, to sell rocks to kids, rather than sell them pictures of rocks in our kits, we need an "out". Otherwise, I suppose we risk jail time.
Hey, I didn't write the damn law. Don't blame me . . . .
Fortunately, there is a little crack in the veneer that allows us to keep selling rock and fossil kits. This section from the CPSC's Q&A gives us a way to keep going:
"Are chemistry sets, science education sets and other educational materials excluded from the lead limits for content and paint and surface coatings if they bear adequate labeling under 16 C.F.R. § 1500.85?
16 C.F.R. § 1500.85 provides that certain articles that are intended for children for educational purposes are exempt for classification as a banned hazardous substance under the FHSA and the lead limits under CPSIA if the functional purpose of the particular educational item requires inclusion of the hazardous substance, and it bears labeling giving adequate directions and warnings for safe use, and is intended for use by children who have attained sufficient maturity, and may reasonably be expected, to read and heed such directions and warnings. For example, an electronics kit or robotics kit would be considered educational and the inclusion of a lead-containing component would not subject the kit to the lead testing requirements because the use of lead in some components is required to make the electronic device. Similarly, the materials used for examination or experimentation for science study such as soil, rocks, chemicals, dissections, etc. would also be exempt." [Emphasis added]
In my opinion, this is shameful and wrong and misleading to consumers, but it's our only choice. The CPSIA forces us to hire lawyers to figure out how to legally bend over, pick up a rock, put it in a box and sell it.
I have boldly decided to not label the flagstones leading to my front door because they're not "Children's Products". If Trick-or-Treaters choose to lick the sidewalk on the way to our door next October, no one can blame me!
Blame Congress instead.