If one thing became clear this year regarding product responsibility, it’s there will never be a time when suppliers can sit back and sigh in relief that they’ve finally mastered the safety jive everyone’s been talking about. The reason is simple: just when a company feels it’s got its groove down pat, a few new moves get thrown in, the music falls out of time and toes are inevitably squashed. But the beat goes on.
Product-safety education is an ever-evolving quagmire of state and federal legislation, new studies uncovering the next potentially dangerous chemical and pending product recalls. This article is a comprehensive overview of what’s new and what’s changed since 2007. Plus, learn how suppliers have taken the lead regarding product testing, setting a new rhythm for an industry constantly on the move.
There are a few classic hazards currently facing promotional product suppliers. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, companies should be up-to-date on news regarding the following:
• Lead. The most considerable foe for manufacturers today is no longer flying under the radar, thanks to 2007’s various product-recall controversies. Lead gave both the consumer and promotional product industries a run for their money—literally. As a result of lead-tainted lunch boxes, the $10 million in damages for which promotional supplier T-A Creations was found to be responsible was one of the largest settlements of its kind to date.
And with the passing of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act (H.R. 4040), suppliers will have to take an even closer look at what exactly is going into children’s products. Though California’s Proposition 65 has historically been upheld as the go-to standard for lead, it is merely a warning-label law. The statute decrees a label must be used if the total daily lead intake from a given product exceeds 0.5 micrograms. The freshly minted CPSC Reform Act, on the other hand, will actually address the chemical makeup of products and impose strict limitations on how much lead is allowable.
• Bisphenol A (BPA). There are conflicting reports on what, if any, effect this chemical compound could have on consumers, yet its presence in the lining of plastic water bottles and like items is causing at least a modicum of concern worldwide. In an unprecedented move this past April, Canada became the first country to ban BPA in baby bottles, according to The Washington Post. The article reported the decision was based on 150 worldwide studies, as explained by Canada’s minister of health, Tony Clement. Conversely, in an antithetical July 2008 story from Reuters, BPA was deemed safe for humans by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has taken a similar stance to the EFSA, issuing statements that BPA is not a health hazard. Yet,
caution reigns supreme. As of this April, the FDA has formed a task force to review studies and research on BPA. According to its Web site: “Based on our ongoing review, we believe there is a large body of evidence that indicates that FDA-regulated products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects.” The evaluation is still in progress but certain suppliers are pre-
emptively removing BPA from various lines. President and CEO of Indianapolis-based Norwood Promotional Products, Paul Lage, said, “Although the FDA has authorized the use of BPA in polycarbonate water bottles, we have switched to alternate BPA-free materials for these products going forward.”
• Phthalates. Though
they’re not a major discussion point in the industry (yet),
phthalates—described by Lage as compounds that make plastic softer and more durable—are banned in the new CPSC reform laws. But unsurprisingly, California had already beaten the federal government to the punch. Last year, the state banned the sale, distribution and/or manufacture of children’s products with more than 1/10 of 1 percent of phthalates, beginning in 2009, USA Today reported. Lage explained further: “California and some other states have or are about to adopt new laws prohibiting six types of phthalates in certain children’s products.”
• PVC. Polyvinyl chloride, often found in plastic packaging and toys, actually contains phthalates—including the
highly controversial DEHP
(di-(2-ethylhexyl))—and is composed of vinyl chloride, which is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen. According to a November 2007 article in The Wall Street Journal, retail giant Target Corp. decided to reduce the use of PVC in many of its products because of concerns that these products’ deterioration may cause lead poisoning (vinyl products sometimes
There is a bill currently being passed around in California (A.B. 2505) that will call for gradually discontinuing the use of PVC, beginning in 2013.
• Manufacturing or design defects. Flammability, combustibility, small points, choking hazards and material tensile strength (the point at which a piece of fabric breaks or loses its structural integrity) are but a few other areas that fall under the product-safety umbrella. Current testing requirements and procedures can be found on the CPSC’s Web site.
Though the CPSC is the default governmental organization where product safety is concerned, until recently, much of its legislation had been out of touch with real-world concerns. “There appears to be a lack of central federal authority when it comes to product-safety standards,” Christopher Duffy, senior vice president of marketing for Bag Makers, Union, Ill., affirmed in an interview that occurred prior to the signing of H.R. 4040.
Perhaps to compensate for erstwhile federal oversights, rigorous state laws such as Prop 65 were passed in an effort to fill in the gaps. “Historically, the federal government hasn’t taken on this role and has left it up
to the states to enforce safe products for its residents,” he added. Although Prop 65 is one of the most oft-cited product laws, other states have been
similarly fortifying their respective regulations. “It’s my understanding that as many as 37 states now have product-safety bills under consideration,”
Once such state bill is the Children’s Product Safety Act, which, according to the Web site for nonprofit organization Kids in Danger, makes selling recalled products illegal. It’s already been passed in Oregon, Michigan and Vermont (to name a few) and is currently under consideration in Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin in addition to a host of other states. Similar legislation, including Delaware’s Children’s Toy Safety Act has also recently been put into practice, noted the site.
Likewise, in the realm of product testing, numerous third-party, not-for-profit organizations as well as independent testing companies (such as the American National Standards Institute and ASTM International) cropped up to create their own supplemental standards. Needless to say, it was getting pretty crowded
“After years of weak enforcement by the CPSC, the government is actively trying to tighten controls and strengthen its enforcement capabilities,” Duffy said. And with the signing of the CPSC Reform Act, the United States took its first steps toward a more reliable system of checks and balances. Compared to what came before, they’re some pretty big steps.
Along with an increase in CPSC staffing and stricter enforcement policies, one of
the major areas of improvement is a substantial reduction of allowable lead levels in products. The “safe harbor” criteria will
be reduced every two years,
from 600 parts per million
(ppm) with the passing of the act into law, to an eventual goal of no more than 100 ppm, effective three years from its enactment (2011).
In addition to all but banning lead, the new law will also
prohibit the sale of children’s products containing the phthalates DEHP, DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate). Though PVC is not specifically mentioned in the text of the bill, one could suspect that, since it contains DEHP, it also falls under the umbrella of banned substances. Other improvements include:
• The CPSC will receive seven years of additional funds (beginning at $88.5 million in 2009).
• Third-party safety testing is now a requirement, and toys must be certified according
to standards developed by ASTM International.
• Manufacturers must label products with identifiers, to speed collection in the event of a recall.
On a grander scale, the implications of the reform is that it puts the United States in a position to pull unsafe products before they enter the distribution cycle, rather than having to constantly take a reactive stance in a recall situation. Manufacturers must now shoulder the burden of proof when it comes to product safety.
Though reform news has barely broken, suppliers were already in the process of renewing mission statements and making testing reports more widely available. It’s a function of doing business in today’s marketplace. However, as Lage is quick to mention, words are not enough. “Distributors should look past their suppliers’ letters and commitments for test results … [and] proactively seek out product-safety information,” he said.
Duffy currently makes testing documentation available for his customers, and noted suppliers should reach out to independent testing labs for the most reliable results (even more impetus to take his advice: it’s now the law).
In order to expedite this exchange between distributors and suppliers, Norwood has implemented Safety Search, an online library of testing reports for distributors. “They can type in a product number and get copies of our product test reports. We anticipate having the vast majority of our test reports loaded into Safety Search by the end of August,” Lage said. Though it is the first of its kind in the promotional products industry, he believes
it will be a growing trend moving forward.
A host of regulations and testing protocol—including those from the FDA, the CPSC as well as the Environmental Protection Agency—have been applied to the company’s product lines, depending upon the nature of the product and what standards apply to it, he explained. “At a minimum, we are asking the labs to test for 16 CFR 1303 total lead content (in paint and other surface coatings) and CA Prop 65 compliance,” Lage said. In addition, FDA requirements are used for food-and-drink items, and toys are tested for hazards such as soluble, heavy-metal content; choking hazards; and more under ASTM F963. ,
To get more information on product-safety requirements and legislation, visit these organizations’ Web sites:
American National Standards Institute: www.ansi.org
Consumer Product Safety Commission: www.cspc.gov
Food and Drug Administration: www.fda.gov
Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov