Eat It or Wear It: CPSIA and Kids' Clothing Safety

Given human instincts with respect to what is edible and what isn't, it's amazing that we've survived as a species.  The average child won't even consider putting brussels sprouts or cauliflower in her mouth, but when she sees a tasty pile of lead paint chips, it's snacktime.  And then there's the problem of too many uses for a good thing:  learning to fasten buttons if fun; trying to swallow them is even more fun.

Sadly, our aptitude for eating all the wrong things sometimes leads to tragedy -- and not just on the scale.  Several years ago, a small boy died after swallowing a lead-infused charm given away with Reebok children's footwear.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission subsequently identified many other potentially toxic pieces of children's jewelry, with labels ranging from Juicy Couture to Twentieth Century Fox.  Amidst the bold headlines, the recall of nearly a million tainted toys by Mattel alone, and a diplomatic dustup with China over its export of unsafe products, a desire for additional protective legislation was formed.  Last year, Congress responded with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

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Juicy Couture child's bracelet recalled as a lead poisoning hazard.

Never heard of CPSIA?  Count your blessings -- and put your plans to roll out an adorable line of children's clothing before Christmas on hold.  It's an act with so many ramifications that even the federal agency charged with implementing it hasn't figured out all of the details yet, though it's already gone into effect.  The basic theme involves new limits on lead content, both in the surface coatings of children's items and in the underlying substrate, and restrictions on Bill_the_Cat.jpga class of chemicals whose name looks something like Bill the Cat coughing up a hairball:  phthalates.  (Pronounce it without the initial "ph.")  These are the compounds that might be used to make your rubber duckie soft and squeezable, as opposed to as hard as PVC pipe, and apparently you really don't want them incorporated into your baby's bib or your toddler's Halloween costume.

Luckily there are dedicated souls out there who live and breathe product safety rules and international trade laws.  And so it was that your favorite law prof spent several extremely informative and surprisingly entertaining hours during Fashion Week listening to David Callet and Robert Stang, both of the Greenberg Traurig law firm, and Louann Spirito of SGS, a consumer products testing company,  review the latest developments involving CPSIA and the fashion industry, as well as a glimpse of what's next on the safety and sustainability horizon.

Who knew that Fall 2009's ubiquitous metal studs could cause such nightmares if they were to be translated into children's wear -- or that the fate of an entire shipment could get caught in the teeth of an untested rogue zipper?  Tailors to the 12-and-under set, beware.