[Editor's Note: I have a postscript to add to this Op-Ed. See the bottom for an additional fact to consider.]
Mike Larson: Toy lead ban puts kids on ATVs at risk
By MIKE LARSON
March 27, 2011
In a month or so, the snow will be gone, the Twins will again be fighting for a pennant and thousands of families will be hitting the trails on ATVs looking for fun and adventure.
Unfortunately, this year more kids are likely to be riding larger, adult-sized ATVs because thousands of dealers like me can't sell youth model ATVs or mini bikes.
Why? Because of a ridiculous political fight in Washington, D.C., that is putting our kids in danger.
ATV dealers and others in our industry are caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war because of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), a law that included new, strict standards for lead in toys -- but created such a broad definition of "children's products" that it ended up banning the sale of youth model ATVs, mini-bikes and other off-highway vehicles because they contain small amounts of lead.
Yes, you read that correctly: ATVs and motorcycles designed to meet the size and performance needs of young riders ages 6 to 12 became "banned hazardous substances" under the new law.
Because lead must be ingested in order to be a health risk, the small amounts of lead that are embedded in metal parts, like the frame and the battery terminals to enhance the safety and functionality of these components, pose no risk to kids.
While not one case of lead poisoning can be documented from children riding youth model ATVs, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's own data shows that more than 90 percent of youth injuries and fatalities occur on larger, adult-size vehicles.
In fact, the CPSC, the ATV industry, safety advocates and parents all agree that it's critical to keep youth riders off adult-sized ATVs, and have cooperated for years to educate ATV riders that children should ride only ATVs that are the correct size for them.
The CPSC's own scientists agree that the presence of lead in these products does not present a health hazard to children. CPSC staff wrote to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who helped write the bill:
"The possibility that children will suffer significant lead exposures from [youth model ATVs] appears to be remote at best....A child using an adult ATV as a substitute would face a far graver and more immediate risk than that of the possible lead exposure from the youth ATVs."
Dingell is now calling for Congress to fix the law.
The CPSC also tried to temporarily address the ban by issuing a stay of enforcement in 2009.
Unfortunately, this hasn't helped because the many manufacturers and dealers have chosen not to sell the smallest youth model ATVs because of the risks of selling under the stay, and there's now a limited availability of these products for consumers.
In fact, half of the major ATV manufacturers are no longer selling youth model off-highway vehicles.
The financial impact on our industry has been devastating. Many dealerships throughout the country have closed because of losing the sales of youth-sized machines on top of an already depressed market. Many dealerships have had to lay off workers to stay open. These actions add job losses to an already challenging economic environment.
ATV and motor-sports enthusiasts have sent hundreds of thousands of letters and e-mails to Congress urging an end to the ban. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has pledged her support, and we urge her and other Minnesota members of Congress to take a leadership role in resolving this ridiculous situation. We've heard a lot of talk from both Republicans and Democrats that this ban must end, but for two years nothing has been done as politics has prevented Congress from addressing this problem.
Kids aren't licking or eating their ATVs, but they just might ride adult-sized ATVs thanks to this ban. Congress is putting kids in danger by refusing to address this problem.
Mike Larson is owner of Larsons Cycle in Cambridge, Minn.
Editor's Postscript: I attended a meeting of stakeholders on January 6th in Washington hosted jointly by Republican and Democratic staff for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to discuss possible changes to the CPSIA. [I wrote about this meeting a couple times earlier this year.] At this meeting, Cindy Pelligrini of the AAP admitted that the fact that the CPSIA tacitly banned youth model ATVs was fine with her and her employer. Why? As she noted, the AAP has long wanted youth model ATVs banned. Changing the law would only open the door to a reversal of this other policy objective of theirs. In other words, the AAP is using its standing with Democratic legislators to push an agenda with a "double benefit". Rather than fighting to ban youth model ATVs directly, a battle it would certainly lose, the AAP used the indirect route of overselling a lead standard that they knew ATVs could not meet. ATVs weren't banned under this law by accident. They were hardly an "unintended consequence." The damage to Minnesota businesses has been significant under this law. Next time, Ms. Klobuchar should pick her allies more carefully.