CPSC Staff Asks Congress to Exempt Youth Vehicles

Dealers affected by the new lead limits, take heart: You seem to have a friend in the staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal agency charged with enforcing those limits.

On Friday it complained to Congress using many of the same arguments first publicized by the Motorcycle Industry Council. The agency also suggested remedies, including the outright exemption of youth vehicles from the limits.

The proposals were attached to a letter written by CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord in response to 10 questions posed by Rep. John D. Dingell. He is chairman emeritus of the House committee that would consider amendments to the CPSIA, the act that created the limits. The agency also sent the letter to 85 other members of Congress.

Dingell asked whether the CPSC thinks that youth vehicles need to be tested for lead content and certain phthalates (plastic softeners also regulated by the CPSIA). He also asked whether the agency thinks ATVs pose a risk to children for the absorption of the substances.

Regarding phthalates, the agency replied that youth vehicles do not appear to be covered by those limits.

The lead standards do apply, the agency said, adding that many youth vehicles appear to have lead-containing parts that don’t qualify for exclusions. But, it said, “the possibility that children will suffer significant lead exposures from these classes of vehicles appears to be remote at best.” It noted that the vehicles are generally stored outside and are designed for kids who are at least 6 years old, who are unlikely to mouth the components.

Children who ride noncompliant vehicles do face hand-to-mouth lead exposure, the agency said. But this type of exposure is not likely to result in significant absorption, especially for kids wearing gear, it said.

The CPSC then pointed out an irony often cited by industry advocates, saying, “Some have argued that if youth-sized ATVs cannot be sold for an extended period of time, owing to the lead limits, then more children may end up riding adult-sized ATVs. A child using an adult ATV as a substitute would face a far graver and more immediate risk than that of the possible lead exposure from the youth ATVs.”

The agency said it probably can’t exclude youth vehicles under the current law, but it made several suggestions for making such exclusions possible through an act of Congress, including:

  • postponing the deadline for sales (not manufacture) of children’s products containing lead above the new limits;
  • lowering the age limit of children’s products;
  • exempting some or all children’s products that are usually not kept in the house, such as bicycles and ATVs;
  • giving the CPSC greater discretion to exclude from compliance with the lead limits any materials or products that pose a negligible risk to children; or
  • allowing materials that are eligible for special treatment when used in electronics devices to receive similar treatment in other children’s products when the justification is equally compelling.

  • The last point refers to the provision in the CPSIA that has allowed the agency to exempt some electronic devices containing many of the same metal alloys used in youth vehicles.

    The CPSIA is sweeping legislation that affects all industries that make items intended primarily for children 12 and under, including those that produce toys, childcare products, playground equipment, books and clothing.

    CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord has voiced her disapproval that the legislation also has stopped the sale of most youth dirtbikes, ATVs and snowmobiles. She recently agreed with radio host Hugh Hewitt when he called the ban “insane.”

    The other member of the two-person CPSC, on the other hand, has said that he approves of the CPSIA. In his own letter to Rep. Dingell, Commissioner Thomas Moore wrote: “I view our mission as implementing the law as it is written to protect consumers, while making compliance with it as simple as we can for the business community.”

    In the same letter, Moore said that his disagreement with Nord has “left the staff unsure in some instances about how to proceed and caused delays in providing guidance.” This is why, he said, the commission has no unified response to Dingell’s questions.

    Moore also said “the single most important step that needs to be taken in furtherance of the implementation of the CPSIA at the agency is to have the third commissioner, who would also be the chairman, appointed to lead the agency.”

    The CPSC has had only two members since 2006 and, because of this, has continued to function only through acts of Congress.

    Moore is a Democrat, sharing the same party as the CPSIA’s main congressional sponsors. Nord is a Republican.

    Although Democrats have taken the most heat over the CPSIA, the vote last summer approving the legislation was nearly unanimous, and it was Bush who signed the bill into law.

    Dealers can download all the documents mentioned in this article at the CPSC website.