Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fahrenheit 2009

I've been keeping up with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) but never blogged about it, mainly because I figured that any law with this many obvious and documented negative consequences could never really be allowed to go into effect. Once again, any sign of faith on my part in governement is rewarded with the rusty hooks of reality.

The CPSIA is a law which came about in the same way many laws with the word "safety" in them do: as a hysterical response to an overblown crisis. Remember all those Chinese products that contained lead? The ones that were going to kill little Johnny when he chewed the kung-fu grip off his G.I. Joe? Say hello to the aftermath!

Like most laws intended to keep everyone, everywhere safe through massive amounts of regulation, it has a raft of unintended consequences. One of the biggest is that anyone selling potentially toxic items must meet stringent testing guidelines for those items. Notice I didn't say "manufacturers of items...". That becomes important when you realize that items get sold and resold everywhere. eBay. Etsy. Craigslist. Pawn shops. Second-hand stores. Getting the picture?

What about items that are older? Antiques? Old books? Not exempt, apparently. These need to be tested as well. This is causing sellers, on advice of the Consumer Product & Safety Commission, to throw out books printed before 1985, as the ink may contain harmful levels of lead. You might be asking, how many cases of death-by-eating-a-book-made-before-1985 are on record. No, I know you're not really asking that. If you were, you'd work for the CPSC!

What can be done about this? Not much, until (and unless) cooler and smarter heads prevail. In the meantime read up on this subject, if for no other reason than to learn an abject lesson in the law of unintended consequences.

Other information:

Government page on the CPSIA
CPSC Guide to Sellers (.pdf)
Roundup of CPSIA related topics

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