Sarah Isakson of Sugarlump in Madison Valley, notes the new lead regulations have caused her to look at the used products she buys from her customers with more care and defaults to what are familiar product brands and known materials when she’s selecting items for resale in her store. photo/Erik Hansen.
Sarah Isakson of Sugarlump in Madison Valley, notes the new lead regulations have caused her to look at the used products she buys from her customers with more care and defaults to what are familiar product brands and known materials when she’s selecting items for resale in her store. photo/Erik Hansen.
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Starting in March, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will hold thrift stores in America to higher health standards when they sell used children's clothing and toys.

The problem is lead, which can cause neurological damage and even death in small children. The new federal regulations were prompted by lead-contaminated toys made in China, said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. That has left staff, managers, and owners of stores that sell used children's products a bit worried and a little leery, they say.

Specifically, children's products that contain more than 600 parts per million of lead can no longer be sold legally on or after Feb. 10, "even if they were manufactured before than," according to the CPSC. The lead standard will be even tighter on Aug. 14 this year, when 300 ppm becomes the cutoff level.

The new product-safety standards also target phthalates, chemicals that make products such as PVC plastic, found in toys such as rubber duckies, more flexible, Wolfson said. The limit with phthalates is more than 1,000 ppm, he said.

Value Village has around 20 stores in the Puget Sound region, and they're all depending on lists of toys that are no longer acceptable for resale, said Corey Pollock, the manager of the Capitol Hill Value Village. "These (lists) are created by our corporate people," he added.

Most of the Value Villages' sales involve used clothing, Pollack said, but while he hadn't heard about it, the new lead and phthalates standards also apply to used children's clothing. The cloth itself isn't so much the problem as it is buttons and paint on zippers on the clothing, Pollack said of a couple of lead-bearing examples. Also high on the list is children's jewelry, which he said is often made with lead.

Allison Rush, who works at the new and second-hand Bootyland store on Capitol Hill, said people at the company have been talking about the new standards.

"How we plan to handle that is to be really careful," she said.

Rush hadn't heard about the lists that Value Village uses, but some toy manufacturers are getting their toys tested and certified for sale by the feds, she said. Bootyland, Rush noted, is checking to see if the manufactures they buy from or whose used products they stock have been certified.

Sarah Isakson, who owns Sugarlump in Madison Valley, buys new products from several different companies. Some of them have already written her to announce they have been certified, she said. That includes an American company with a manufacturing plant in China, Isakson said.

"Ultimately, I think it will be a good thing, and hopefully they'll iron out the unintended consequences," said Isakson, who noted the lead-free certification process is currently unclear for both retailers and manufacturers.

That said, the small craftspeople Isakson buys from have not spent the thousands of dollars needed to get their products tested and certified, she said. As a result, Isakson said she will probably end up dropping their products for the meantime.

"I'm looking at things differently in the fact that I am liable for certain things I sell," Isakson said. "The thing that's tricky about it is that, as second-hand sellers, there's a certain amount of second guessing."

Isakson added that it doesn't make sense to conduct a costly test on an item that sells for $5-$10, and, therefore, she errs on the side of caution.

"It'll be interesting, in a year, to see what happens when they start the strict testing," Isakson said.

On Friday, Jan. 30, the CPSC put a yearlong hold on requiring manufacturers to test their products for lead and phthalates and have them certified, Wolfson said.

Second-hand stores such as Sugarlump, Bootyland and Value Village still don't have to test their products for lead and phthalates contamination, something that was originally proposed by the CPSC.

But there's a Catch 22 involved. Resellers should avoid products that are "likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit," according to a CPSC press release.

The new regulations also have teeth.

"Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties," according to the press release.

That doesn't mean the feds are going to put a bunch of toy police out on the streets to check the thrift stores, Wolfson said. A more likely scenario would be an outside agency or a competing manufacturer doing the testing, he said.

"The key thing is these stores are checking the recall lists," said Wolfson, who added that the information the information can be found on the CPSC Web site.

Still, Isakson said, she's having a problem with a lack of information about the new lead standards. "Right now, I'm a little confused."

Parents at her store seem to be taking the new child-safety standards in stride, according to Isakson. "More are concerned about how this law will affect my business," she said.