A new federal law designed to protect children from lead products has forced the owners of Martha’s Closet II, the Island’s only consignment shop for kids, to go out of business.
The Gazette previously reported two that the same law has forced the two Island thrift stores to turn away donations and throw away children’s clothing, toys and books.
Meanwhile, the new law is expected to force the elimination of children’s items at the so-called Dumptique in West Tisbury, the popular recycling center run entirely by volunteers. The center is currently closed, but volunteers who run the center said they plan to stop redistributing children’s items because of the new law
The law, called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, was passed by Congress last year and signed into law after a wave of highly publicized tainted-toy recalls, many of which were aimed at toy manufacturers in China. It took effect on Feb. 10.
The new rules ban lead content beyond minute levels in any product for children aged 12 and younger. The law makes it illegal not only to manufacture lead-laced products, but also to sell or distribute them, no matter when the products were made. The onus to test products is on the vendor.
Janice Gulland, co-owner of Martha’s Closet II, said the new law made it impossible for the consignment shop to stay open; the store would have to test most items for lead paint, which would be too costly, or ignore the law and run the risk of fines and penalties.
“We felt like we didn’t have a choice,” Ms. Gulland said.
Linda McGuire, one of the volunteers who runs the Dumptique recycling center, said she is frustrated and heartbroken by the new federal law. She said the center has provided a means for struggling families to get toys and clothing for children for years, and in her estimation the new law doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“I think it’s idiotic, to be honest. People need this place now more than ever,” she said.
Ms. McGuire said her first inclination after hearing about the law was to ignore it. But after speaking with West Tisbury health agent John Powers, she realized it could not be ignored.
Mr. Powers said he also doesn’t agree with the law, and also doesn’t think much of it. But to avoid penalties and fines, he recommended that the volunteers who run the center pack up the children’s items and wait for the law to be amended.
“There is a high level of frustration with the law,” he said. “I know what they are trying to do, but I don’t understand why there isn’t some provision allowing people to sell [or give away] these items with a sort of ‘buyer beware’ agreement,” he said.
There is confusion across the country about how the new law affects thrift stores and consignment shops. The Consumer Product Safety Commission released a press release in January explaining that “sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify those products meet the new lead limits.”
However, the release seems to contradict itself, explaining that “resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit.”
“Resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties,” it continues.
Sandy Pratt, director of the Thrift Shop in Vineyard Haven, said store officials are taking no chances. She’s suggested parents network among themselves to exchange children’s items.
“We can’t take the risk . . . we can’t afford to do the testing, and we cannot afford to pay the fines. It’s not even a question of enforcement for us, it’s also a liability issue. If someone buys an item, and finds lead paint, they could sue us,” Ms. Pratt said.
Already, customers are upset, she said, adding: “I don’t blame them.”