As far back as December 2009, CPSIA zealots have been promoting the notion that a "functional purpose" exemption is the centerpiece of any fix to the CPSIA. See Henry Waxman's first attempt at a middle-of-the-night amendment to the CPSIA. Chairman Inez Tenenbaum chimed in in January 2010 to support the need for a functional purpose exemption: "I have learned through our implementation of the law, however, that there are circumstances where the exclusion of lead in certain materials or component parts is extremely problematic. Accordingly, it would be helpful for Congress to create a new exclusion to the section 101(a) lead content limits that would allow some flexibility in cases where lead is required for a functional purpose and the elimination of the lead is impracticable or impossible." At their insistene, this term has always been part of each draft of CPSIA amendment being discussed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
This same approach lives on in ECADA today. Does it really make sense to offer an "out" for items or materials which "[require] the inclusion of lead because it is not practicable or not technologically feasible to manufacture" without violative lead levels? How might that judgment be made?
No matter - the exemption sounds like a nice gesture by the powers-that-be, doesn't it? Leaves the door cracked just a bit so that companies in the children's market can preserve hope, right? The provision also addresses the unfortunate but predictable fact that the CPSC has been "unable" to grant even one exemption to the CPSIA in the last three years. Zero, zip, zilch, nada, nothin'. Advocates insist that this exemption process solves the problem of an overly-inflexible law without unnecessarily "endangering" children from dreaded lead.
I wonder if you would feel differently if you knew that there are no conceivable materials or products that meet this standard. The CPSC Staff confirmed it in writing. The CPSC report on 100 ppm released last week confirms once and for all that the functional purpose exemption is an outright SHAM. This darling of Rep. Henry Waxman and his minions (including Adler and Tenenbaum) will never be used to grant even one exemption, thus perpetuating the hoax that the CPSIA has exemptions. It doesn't, it never has and if the Dems get their way with this provision, it never will. This is no accident.
The CPSC Staff report concludes that the 100 ppm lead level is "technologically feasible" for all products and all materials. Thus, they recommend the implementation of the new standard on time on August 14 to apply to everything. This is critical - they conclude that every material and every product can be produced at the 100 ppm level.
This is actually a narrow judgment under very specific conditions set out in the CPSIA. "Technologically feasible" is a term of art under the law - it does not have the ordinary English language meaning you might otherwise expect. Of particular note, the definition does not refer to cost or economics in any fashion. In other words, if it can be done (at any expense, regardless of how ridiculous), it must be done. As the staff discovered, almost anything is "technologically feasible" under this definition in a low tech business like children's products. Of course, you might have to spend a lot of money or take a lot of economic risk. The law is indifferent to these pedestrian concerns.
To reach this conclusion, staff also dispensed with the notion that anyone "used" lead at these trace levels. They note that intentional uses of lead were always at concentrations well above 300 ppm: "Staff has found no intentional uses of lead in materials at concentrations at or near any of the three statutory lead limits (i.e., 100 ppm, 300 ppm, or 600 ppm). Therefore, staff does not believe that children’s product manufacturers intentionally design or make products or components with the maximum allowable lead content because lead concentration near the maximum limit would have no benefit or purpose to the product or the manufacturer." In other words, lead is never "included" in children's products at these levels.
[Note to the Dem Commissioners - you can now officially apologize for your insulting remark that we manufacturers intend to "dose" children with lead if standards are even slightly loosened.]
Staff also confirmed the obvious on health issues relating to these trace levels: The contribution of products with lead levels of between 100 ppm and 300 ppm is "minimal".
In so concluding, the staff apparently rejected the testimony of the AAP's estimable Dana Best that IQ points were being lost left and right from trace levels of lead.
So why are the Dems still insisting on a "functional purpose" exemption process? Well, substantively, there is no rational justification for it anymore - it cannot be granted given staff's conclusions. That said, who is going to figure that one out? It sounds good, makes good press for an easily-duped media, and allows Dems to adopt the stump-worthy posture of "listening" to corporate victims while still protecting children against evil companies out to poison them.
As I said, who is going to connect the dots and figure this one out? Expect every draft of the pending CPSIA amendment to include this obsolete notion no matter the facts. It's good for you, remember!
This is called leadership in Washington today.