Despite murky lead rules, Kids Exchange swamped

Parents eager for bargain toys and clothes make it clear: They like these consignment sales

Staff WriterJanuary 26, 2009 

  • Starting Feb. 10, manufacturers will have to certify that toys and clothes for children under 12 do not contain lead and substances called phthalates that are used to soften plastic. It is already illegal to sell items that have been recalled for any reason.

    While second-hand dealers are not required to test each toy, they can face civil and criminal charges should they sell items that contain the banned substances. Dealers are urged not to sell certain items that are likely to contain lead, such as painted wooden and metal toys, unless testing has shown that they do not contain lead.

    ON THE WEB

    ABOUT THE RULES: cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09086.html

    CHECK FOR RECALLED ITEMS: cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html

    SIGN A PETITION SUPPORTING CONSIGNMENT SALES: www. kidsexchange.net

— Lingering uncertainty over how new federal restrictions on lead in children's toys apply to second-hand dealers didn't stop record crowds from scooping up bargains at this weekend's Kids Exchange consignment sale.

A federal law passed last year would have made even second-hand sellers test all children's items for lead and other toxins -- a costly hardship that organizers of the Triangle's popular consignment sales said would have shut them down entirely.

But a partial reprieve by the federal agency that oversees the standards said that resellers -- from thrift shops to garage sales -- will not have to test each item. However, resellers can still face lawsuits or criminal charges should they sell toys that turn out to contain lead or other banned substances. The stricter rules kick in Feb. 10.

Many parents at this weekend's sale at the State Fairgrounds found themselves in the unusual position of advocating for less- stringent screening of potentially toxic toys. The resounding theme among shoppers Sunday, when toys and clothes are half price: leave my dirt-cheap toys alone.

"They are good sales, and I hope they don't go away," said Maria Morales, shopping with her three children, ages 1 to 4, and pregnant with her fourth.

Morales said she has returned toys that had been recalled, and she noted that manufacturers will reimburse consumers no matter where they buy them.

She feels safe that a combination of common sense and publicly available recall lists should keep her children as safe as the federal laws that might limit sales.

"It's up to us to be aware of what we buy, of what we bring to our homes," she said.

Most bargain shoppers supported the new rules that will make manufacturers certify that their products don't contain lead and phthalates, chemicals used to soften plastic.

But some also said that the new rules might cut the availability of used items.

"If people knew what the liability is to be selling these things, they might say it's not worth the three or four dollars I'm going to get for it," said Will Newton, shopping at the sale with his wife and 15-month-old daughter, Saya.

The Kids Exchange sale is the region's largest consignment sale and traditionally the first of the season. The new rules have put other sales planned for February and March in doubt. Organizers at Kids Exchange said they absorbed items from at least one other sale that was shut down in light of the unclear rules.

An estimated 20,000 people had shopped at this weekend's three-day sale, a record crowd that organizers said might have gotten a boost from fears that other sales would not take place.

But organizer Amy Winstead said the sour economy probably motivated more of the folks browsing through table after table of primary-colored plastic, lacy onesies and other supplies.

"Most years, it would be a hobby for a lot of people to come here," Winstead said. "This year they're saying, 'If I'm going to buy anything for the next six months, I'm going to have to buy it here.' "

The biannual sale will have to make some changes before its next event in July. Buyers will sign releases saying that the sellers who brought the items, not the organizers, are responsible for their wares. Sellers who bring recalled products will be banned. Some toys, such as painted metal, might not be accepted.

Winstead said she's still not satisfied with the new rules, which she fears are not permanent because they contradict the law that was passed.

"The law basically says that everything here needs to go to the landfill," Winstead said, sweeping her arm to show massive piles of toys and gear.

marti.maguire@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4841

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