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Moms challenge lead-testing rule

There are a few absolute truths in the world. This is one: Don't mess with mommas.

"There is a no more powerful force in the world than a bunch of upset mothers," said Paul Dutille, owner of Lexington's Once Upon A Child, a children's resale and consignment shop.

Dutille, and the 229 other franchise owners across the country, harnessed some sizable maternal outrage into a campaign to squelch a federal law that would limit selling used clothes, toys and furniture for children under 12 unless they were tested for lead. An e-mail blitz to all Once Upon a Child customers urged them to contact their congressman and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to address the measure called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.


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"The response we are getting from most of our customers is anger, shock, surprise, almost disbelief," said Dutille.

Why?

The buzz on the Internet and in mommy circles was that the requirement contained in a law approved last year that all resold items must be tested for lead would force consignment shops to close, drain the world of gently used onesies and leave charitable groups that depend on resale for their good works in an enormous lurch.

Although the law was passed early last year, the fear of its repercussions rose dramatically as a Feb. 10 deadline for implementation loomed.

"It was disheartening," said Melissa Miller, co-coordinator of the Lillbug sale sponsored by the Georgetown Christian Church Mothers of Preschoolers group. "We really couldn't figure out what it specifically meant for us."

Paying for lead testing was out of the question. People depend on the sale, Miller said, because it provides both money to support the mothers group and high-quality clothes at a steep discount.

If something happens to the sale, which is the group's major fund-raiser and grosses about $15,000, "it would affect many parents and grandparents."

So she started making calls to legislators, anybody who might be able to help her get a handle on the problem. Her fellow mothers were doing the same.

Amy Broaddrick, who helps the biannual Lil Lambs Closet sale in Lexington, said she first heard about the law on Jan. 4. Within four days she had gotten 75 voice mails or e-mails about what it might mean for the Lil' Lambs sale, which provides $60,000 to $70,000 for charity each year.

Broaddrick rallied her troops, contacted a lawyer and made several calls to legislators. She also plugged into the mom network to report back that somebody talked to the Arkansas legislator who originally proposed the bill and that things might not be as dire as they appeared.

Those individual efforts were being echoed across the country.

Sarah Meyers, owner of Lexington's Ladybug Landing, said she just found out about the law within the last few weeks. It didn't take long until she started getting calls from concerned customers.

Her response, she said, was to dive into research, reading the original law and looking at news articles across the country. After her research Meyers used words such as "ridiculously expensive" and "ludicrous" when discussing the law's enforcement.

Although required lead testing would most likely put her out of business, she didn't panic. She couldn't imagine that the thing would stand. Several of her customers told her they were busy e-mailing and calling members of Congress and the safety commission.

By Thursday, amid all the Internet clatter, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is in charge of enforcing the Consumer Product Safety Act, had sent out a "clarification" on the law.

A review of all the commission's press releases for the last year shows that such a clarification is relatively rare.

The number of comments about the resale rule were "substantial," said spokesman Scott Wolfson. In fact, he said, discussion of the safety act probably ranks among the top 10 issues in which the commission has been involved.

There were plenty of comments from moms, he said, but also from consignment shop owners, crafters, artists and small-business owners worried about their bottom line.

The clarification was an effort to address all the "mis-information being put out," he said.

It stated that consignment shops and other resellers wouldn't be required to test for lead, but they also shouldn't sell products that exceed safe lead standards.

How that issue might be enforced, he said, is still being worked on by the safety commission staff.

All this activity makes the Feb. 10 deadline void. But the struggle will continue.

"We are trying to be as responsive as we can," said Wolfson. But, he said, "No one should lose sight that this is a law aimed at improving children's product safety."

The other side said it is angling to maintain the opportunity to get high-quality necessities at discounted prices. Dutille, of Once Upon A Child, said most of the goods in his store are sold at 75 percent below retail.

Broaddrick, who claims to be one of the top purchasers at the Lil' Lambs sale she helps organize, said the issue matters because it hits so close to home.

"With the economy as bad as it is at this point, people are really looking for bargains," she said. "They are depending on our sale."

To comment on the act

Those who are interested in helping shape policy should go to www.cpsc.gov and go to the open forum or go to www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsialist.aspx to comment specifically about the act.

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