Don't Worry, Reselling Children's Clothing Isn't About To Become Illegal. Probably.

Reselling your kid’s used clothing could soon violate federal law. Come February 10, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will prevent retailers from selling children’s products that haven’t been certified as lead free. Old hand-me-downs, of course, haven’t been certified for anything more than running around the yard. Parents are worried, petitions are being drawn up, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission isn’t doing much to clarify the law.

Consumers Union, along with a half dozen other public interest groups, has urged federal regulators to immediately provide additional guidance and clarity to help address those concerns. In a letter sent to Acting CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord, the groups have pushed the CPSC to inform manufacturers and retailers how to comply with the new legal requirements and to outline what the true cost of testing will be. And we’ve asked the agency to work with secondhand sellers to keep dangerous products off their shelves while also presenting commonsense solutions for those stores. The CPSC tried to do that in a press release issued last week, but unfortunately we’re not sure the “clarifications” make the new law any clearer.

The CPSC has proposed exempting certain products and materials from their regulations. But many in industry are calling for even broader exemptions that may undermine the goals of the new legislation. While it’s easy to understand the difficulties small businesses face in this time of economic uncertainty, the risk is that the goals of the new legislation will be weakened. Let’s not forget what led to the new regulations in the first place: Almost 30 million unsafe children’s products were recalled last year, and even more the year before that.

The CPSC’s January 8 press release said:

Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.

In a sign of just how much confusion that statement caused, Snopes, the internet’s arbiter of truth, declared “vendors will not have to have [children's clothes] tested and certified;” by contrast, the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops responded: “NO… NO… No… The law remains UNALTERED! Please read it VERY CAREFULLY! This is NOT a ruling, exemption or exception to the CPSIA… it is a Press Release. It is NOT definitive!”

The CPSC clearly doesn’t want to criminalize the used clothing trade, but as with most public policy decisions, striking a workable balance isn’t exactly easy. Though the protections enshrined in the Act are long overdue, no parent should have to worry about a federal indictment when trying to sell little Jimmy’s slightly worn pants for $5.

Toymakers and resellers raise concerns over new safety regulations [Consumer Reports]
New safety rules for children’s clothes have stores in a fit [The Los Angeles Times]
Claim: Regulations taking effect 10 February 2009 will prohibit the resale of used children’s products that have not been tested for lead and phthalates. [Snopes]