Capitol Comments

CPSC Approves Stringent 100 ppm Limits for Lead in Toys, Children's Products

By Jessica Franken, INDAu2008Director of Government Affairs | August 9, 2011

U.S. manufacturers of toys and other products made for kids 12 and under will soon be required to ensure these goods are 99.99% lead-free following a recent decision by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In a 3-2 vote, split along party lines, the agency's democratic commissioners, onJuly 13, agreed to lower the limit for the amount of lead allowed in children's products from 300 parts per million to 100 ppm,starting August 14, 2011. The 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires the Commission to progressively lower the lead limits over a three year period following enactment, capping off with a final drop to 100 ppm unless the agency determines doing so would not be "technologically feasible."

After spending several months gathering data and collecting stakeholder input, CPSC staff determined in June that doing so would be feasible, arguing that lead content is already low in most products, and that there are materials and technologies on the market to enable compliance. Critics, who include numerous industry groups and the agency's two republican commissioners, say the CPSIA has already reduced lead to trace levels and that the new rules will place a stranglehold on already struggling U.S. manufacturers, with no clear benefit.

Despite these arguments, effective Aug. 14, 2011, it will be unlawful to make, sell, distribute or import children's products containing more than 100 ppm lead, and this includes items that were in inventory but released into commerce after the effective date.While it should be noted that the CPSIA's lead content testing requirements are currently stayed until Dec. 31, 2011, and the commission has said virtually all textile products, including those treated with dyes and pigments, already meet the 100 ppm limits, those who make other children's products who violate the new standard could face recall and challenges defending product liability claims.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: leave it to the feds to take the fun out of toys.

Study says rental shop towels pose risks to workers
While the Consumer Product Safety Commission is working feverishly to make sure some products are virtually lead-free, thousands of American workers using laundered shop towels could be being exposed to excess amounts of lead as well as several other harmful substances, according to an independent research study released July 11.

The report, the "Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels," released by Cambridge, MA-based environmental and risk science consulting firm Gradient looks at the risks posed by laundered shop towels sampled from 26 different industrial sites, building upon a similar study conducted by the firm in 2003. The updated report finds that even after commercial laundering, rental shop towels may contain levels of lead, cadmium, antimony, cobalt, copper and molybdenum that exceed health-based guidelines established by regulatory agencies. Workers may ingest these and other lingering contaminants when they handle the towels and do things like rub their mouths.

Recent agenda shows EPA looking tofinalize 'wiper rule' by July 2012
A semi-annual regulatory agenda released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 7 supports regulators' recent assurances to INDA that the agency is stepping up the timeline for finalizing the longstanding "industrial wiper rule."

INDA and the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) met with Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery Acting Director Suzanne Rudzinski and other key EPA officials earlier this summer to describe how finalizing the wiper rule would support broader White House regulatory reform efforts aimed at making sure government red tape doesn't unnecessarily hinder U.S. businesses.

Completing the long-delayed rule would address concerns that the current waste regulations for non-laundered wipes are unnecessary, confusing and hindering economic growth, INDA and SMART told the agency.However, despite these clear benefits, EPA staff had reported a few months prior that the timetable for finishing the regulation had once again slipped, this time to mid- to late-2013 at the earliest.

Rudzinski confirmed there had been delays but said the agency more recently had pushed up the timeline, largely due to INDA/SMART's participation in a March 17 video town hall meeting hosted by Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) chief Mathy Stanislaus. During that town hall, the groups pressed the OSWER chief on the wiper rule status and further questioned why the agency hadn't been able to complete the rule even though its most recent risk assessment had found no risk from properly disposed wipes. Stanislaus responded that the agency is "moving forward as rigorously as possible" with the rule and offered to review the timeline for finalizing the rule. The exchange was later picked up by several Washington trade publications.

As a result, Rudzinski said, the agency is now setting its sights on publishing a final rule by July 2012.While we aren't forking over a deposit for the victory party just yet, both INDA and SMART agreed the agency's heightened level of engagement and renewed commitment to completing the rule is refreshing and encouraging.Stay tuned, folks.

NLRB looks to pick up where 'card check' left off
After many failed attempts to move the organized labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act (a.k.a. "card check") through Congress, a recent proposal from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) suggests union supporters might once again have something on which to hang their hats.

While the plan described in the NLRB's June 22 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking wouldn't eliminate the right of employers to call for secret ballot elections as the EFCA hoped to do, it is expected to significantly reduce the time between a union's petition for an election and the election itself, which critics charge unfairly stacks the deck towards union organizers.

In addition to allowing unions to file representation petitions electronically, the proposal looks to expedite the election process by standardizing the time frames for adjudication before and after union balloting, specifically requiring pre-election hearings within seven days of notice and post-election trials within 14 days of ballots being tallied. Parties would also be required to raise any thorny issues during pre-election proceedings while voter-eligibility issues would be deferred until after the polling, with the aim of streamlining the process.

Although the proposed changes appear relatively minor, when taken together, critics say the democrat-controlled Board's proposal would drastically and unfairly reduce employer's ability to combat union organizing efforts. As Joe Trauger, VP for human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers recently wrote, the proposed new rules"are the latest attempt by the NLRB to effectively do for the unions what Congress wouldn't – stack the deck in their favor."As republican NLRB member Brian Hayes stated in his dissent: "Make no mistake, the principal purpose for this radical manipulation of our election process is to minimize, or rather, to effectively eviscerate an employer's legitimate opportunity to express its views about collective bargaining."

As it stands, the NLRB is accepting input on this proposal until August 22.

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