Thrift shops scour toy inventory to comply with lead rules
(Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 20--CHAPEL HILL -- Federal regulations prohibiting the sale of children's products with lead have some thrift stores in the area pulling toys and other items from their shelves rather than take the chance that something might be contaminated.
Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act last year, which, in part, bans any children's product containing lead. The Consumer Product Safety Commission originally said that after Tuesday, thrift stores would not be allowed to sell items for children 12 and younger that had not been tested for lead.
Then in January, the agency announced that it would no longer require children's clothing, toys and other items sold at secondhand stores to be tested. A statement from the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended that resellers avoid selling products likely to contain lead, however, unless they can prove the products aren't tainted.
The statement also warned of stiff civil and criminal penalties if thrift store owners are found selling products that violate the new standards.
In response to the mandate, PTA Thrift Shops Inc. -- which has retail locations in Chapel Hill and Carrboro -- pulled toys and children's items from store shelves.
"This is not something we're choosing to do," said Barbara Jessie-Black, executive director of PTA Thrift Shops. "We love to be able to sell toys, but from a liability standpoint we feel it's not in our best interest to sell toys and go against this regulation."
Jessie-Black said PTA Thrift Shops, a nonprofit that benefits the city school district, has provided information to customers about the regulation in stores and online. But many patrons are upset that the toys are no longer available, especially in difficult economic times when new toys aren't always affordable.
"It's a bad business plan," said Ingrid Rojas, a customer and parent. "They say it's done out of fear of a lawsuit, but all these fears bring you to extreme decisions."
Rojas said buying used toys is a good recycling habit, and she depends on getting old toys to help her save money. She shops at many thrift stores in the area, and the PTA Thrift Shops are the only ones she is aware of that are taking this level of precaution.
At least one other thrift store in Chapel Hill -- Club Nova -- is aware of the regulation but decided to restock its toy selection after the Consumer Product Safety Commission removed the testing requirement. Ed Hudgins, a thrift shop assistant, said Club Nova had about 10 tubs of toys and many clothing items that were temporarily removed from the shelves in response to the regulation.
Jessie-Black said the PTA Thrift Shops' toy inventory is currently in storage should the federal ruling change. In the meantime, she and her staff have been telling people who want to donate toys to hang onto them if possible and donate them at a later time. They are mindful of toys ending up in the landfill unnecessarily, and are trying to avoid discarding them.
While Jessie-Black stands by the PTA Thrift Shops' decision, she thinks the minuses of the federal regulation outweigh the pluses.
"Even taking the business part of it out, this really hits people who can't afford to shop anywhere else," she said. "They want to protect the consumer, which is great for new toys. But when you sell thrift, it is what it is -- used goods. This is almost cutting off your nose to spite your face."
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