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Are You Confused About CPSIA Regulations?



The Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), enacted in August 2008, is still causing a great deal of confusion among specialty printers who manufacture children’s products. Many misunderstand what the regulatory puzzle means and who is responsible for which piece. Amendments that were passed in August 2011 did little to clarify the matter. And the CPSIA isn’t going away.

The Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), enacted in August 2008, is still causing a great deal of confusion among specialty printers who manufacture children’s products. Many misunderstand what the regulatory puzzle means and who is responsible for which piece. Amendments that were passed in August 2011 did little to clarify the matter. And the CPSIA isn’t going away. Last December, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which contains a provision appropriating $1,000,000 in funds (available until September 2017) for the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to reduce the costs of complying with the third-party testing requirement for certification of children’s products, a key element in the 2011 legislative amendments. While CPSC has taken small steps down this path, much work still remains to be accomplished.

Small Steps
One of the most confusing aspects of the regulations remains the use of what’s known as component part testing, which allows companies that manufacture products such as children’s printed apparel to test individual elements of a product (the ink, for example) in order to be certified rather than the product itself. The regulation gives companies that manufacture (meaning print, in the case of printed apparel) or import such goods the option of doing the testing themselves or relying upon tests conducted by a third party (such as the company that manufactured the ink), provided they complied with all CPSC regulatory requirements. This is obviously a key distinction for a garment or promotional products decorator, because the availability of acceptable third-party tests could lessen the burden of testing.

Some complained that the regulatory language was not flexible enough to allow for component part testing for the solubility of specified chemicals used on toy substrates, with the exception of testing the lead and phthalate content of paint. CPSC has issued new regulatory language specifically stating that component part testing may be used beyond lead and phthalate content.

But an important word on component part testing for the garment decoration community: It’s not mandatory. The manufacturer of the final product purchased by the consumer is the party responsible for ensuring that the product complies with the lead and/or phthalate content limits. The ink manufacturer is not required to provide testing information because the printer is ultimately responsible for compliance and providing the children’s product certificate.

Another Small Step
The CPSC also included a section listing categories of products and materials that are exempt from lead testing under the CPSIA, stating that “textiles (excluding after-treatment applications, including screen prints, transfers, decals, or other prints)” were exempt from the third-party testing requirements for lead. The exemption language is really confusing, partly because the most important clause for our industry is in parentheses. What it’s saying is that, while the textile itself is exempt from testing requirements, the decorations (screen printed or otherwise) are not – for most of us, not favorable language.


But the phrase “or other prints” prompted additional questions. In another final rule, the Commission amended the provisions to clarify that dyed textiles, regardless of the techniques used to produce and apply the colorants, are not subject to the required testing for lead. In amending the language, the Commission stated that the process used to manufacture, print, or apply colorants is not the defining factor. The central issue remains whether or not the textile products are dyed or include other non-dye finishes. Those products, where the non-dye substances do not become a part of the fabric matrix but remain, as defined by the CPSC, a surface coating, are subject to the testing required for children’s products by the CPSIA.

This regulatory amendment codifies the long-held policy of the CPSC regarding scrapable and nonscrapable coatings. Remember, in the CPSC regulatory world, our ink systems are considered surface coatings. When a surface coating can be scraped off, then it must be tested to ensure compliance with the lead content limit.

The key words remain “part of the fabric matrix.” It can be argued that garments that undergo dye sublimation or use discharge inks are exempt from the testing requirements. However, even if your product is exempt from testing, you must still comply with all other CPSIA requirements, including labels.

Many printers are. More than seven years after the legislation was enacted, there still does not appear to be visible enforcement by the CPSC on products manufactured within the US. The majority of the violations are found at the point of entry for imports, and primarily involve tracking labels and third-party certificates.

Tracking labels are another common source of confusion. Their purpose is to provide direct information to the final consumer in the event of a product recall. The commissioners, when implementing this provision, did not provide a template or set of step-by-step instructions, instead leaving it up to the individual product manufacturer. They did not intend the phrase “tracking label” to mean that all of the information must be printed in one discrete location or label. If a product already has some or all of the required information, manufacturers need not duplicate existing marks onto a new label; also, any additional required “distinguishing permanent marks” can be added to an existing label or printed elsewhere on the item.

So what does need to be included? The tracking label must contain information that will enable the manufacturer and ultimate purchaser to determine:
• What company manufactured or private labeled the product;
• The date and location where the product was produced;
• “Cohort” information such as the batch, run number, or other identifying characteristics;
• And any other information that the manufacturer believes will help determine the specific source of the product in the event of a recall.


Each children’s product must list the name of the manufacturer. If your final product is private labeled, then the label in the garment meets this requirement. The location (city and country) of where the product was produced as well as the date (month and year are fine) should be on the garment. And, then you need to include information that will allow you to tie the garment back to any product recall. Many companies are using batch numbers or purchase orders, as they allow the manufacturer to tie the product to the children’s product certificate.

Every children’s product produced must contain this information on the item. The manufacturer must also ensure that the information has been applied and is legible.

A Word on Certificates
These aren’t the same things as tracking labels, which are applied to each garment. The manufacturer must also create written certificates showing that the product meets all applicable children’s product safety rules. These certificates are based upon the results of third-party tests, as discussed above, and the manufacturer or importer is responsible for writing them (not the testing agency).

As long as the individual products are clearly identified, the certificate can be developed for each purchase order. For example, if you have produced a large order for a local school involving five designs, one certificate can cover all of the shirts and designs in the job. You don’t need to send the certificates with each order; however, be sure the customer is able to access the information.

The Customer Base
The old adage that the customer is always right applies here. Under the CPSC regulations, the phthalate content limits only apply to children’s toys and childcare articles. However, many customers are establishing their own requirements by requesting that no phthalates be found in any of their products. This is certainly within their rights, but it creates confusion in the market. Among the most common misunderstandings, know that removing a regulated component such as lead or phthalate from your production process (by switching inks, for example) does not make you exempt from CPSIA regulations. Nearly eight years after CPSIA entered our industry, many questions and controversies surrounding implementation of this program remain. We shall see what new adventures come in 2016.

Read more from our issue.





Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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