SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Some small business owners in Maine say a new federal law designed to protect the health of children is forcing them to scale back their operations because the compliance costs are too high.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which takes effect Feb. 10, requires that all products for children 12 and younger be tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to soften plastics.
Jennifer Houghton, owner of The Little Hat Co. in South Berwick, said it could cost up to $2,000 to have a third-party laboratory run tests on each of the components in a new hat, which her business cannot afford.
As a result, Houghton is holding a fire sale to dump her inventory of children’s hats by Feb. 9 and is switching her business to adult hats.
Houghton’s situation is not unique, says Curtis Picard, executive director of the Maine Merchants Association.
“Our phone has been ringing off the hook the last couple of weeks,” Picard said. “It’s a well-intentioned law, but it’s certainly having some unintended consequences. They unleashed a whole army, when the problem probably just needed a more moderate response.”
William John Woods, who sells about 2,000 handmade wooden baby rattles and toys through his Ogunquit Wooden Toy company, is troubled by the law, which was enacted last summer in response to the recall of millions of Chinese-made toys.
Despite the fact that the only thing he puts on the wood is walnut oil and beeswax, Woods says he is subject to the new requirement.
“I don’t want to say it would put me out of business, but I guess I’d have to ignore it. I know that’s not right, but what am I going to do?” Woods said. “In all my years of making toys, I have never had one complaint. I’ve never, ever gotten one back.”
Several lawmakers, including Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are pressing the Consumer Product Safety Commission to modify the requirements to prevent unintended consequences for small businesses.
“I cannot overstate how critical it is that CPSC expeditiously work, within the constraints of the law, to exclude merchandise that poses no danger to the public,” Snowe wrote the commission’s chairwoman.