Tips for easing compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act regulations.

It was early fall 2008 when shock, panic, fear and confusion reigned in the children’s apparel and products industries after Congress passed a regulation that would change the rules of the game for everyone. Prior to Aug. 14, 2008, manufacturers and importers of children’s products, including apparel and accessories, experienced only limited enforcement when it came to the safety and chemical makeup of the components used in their lines. The signing of the landmark Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) into law last August mandated an increased level in the awareness that manufacturers, importers and retailers must have in the design, sourcing, procurement, production, labeling, marketing and sale of their products. For some companies, this meant a complete review of their operating and quality programs.

One of the scariest manifestations of this new regulation came in the form of stringent—and retroactive—requirements for lead and phthalates. The SGS Group’s testing lab experienced the confusion and fear from the industry firsthand. While the ensuing stay on third-party testing and certifications of compliance was a welcome stopgap, allowing companies extra time to switch gears and adjust to the new processes required, manufacturers are still facing compliance challenges.

Testing over the past year has revealed that decorative embellishments, popular in the children’s market, are some of the leading offenders for high lead content. Components such as beads, sequins, rhinestones, plastic buttons, color coatings on snaps and zippers, plastic and vinyl continue to exceed the lead limits, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently voted to deny a request for exclusion of crystal and glass beads from lead requirements. Further, while the commission also published a final ruling on lead exemptions specifying that dyed and undyed natural and synthetic fibers, printed fabrics and leather are excluded, screenprints, heat transfers and other surface prints must still be tested for lead in paint and coatings and must comply with the new requirements. (A complete list of exemptions is available on the CPSIA Web site at www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsia.html.)

The best defense against getting snagged in the web of compliance regulations is to understand the rules and take steps now to prepare before the end of the stay. Be proactive.


1. Understand CPSIA regulations and requirements.

The CPSIA law is multifaceted, so it’s important to understand all of the requirements that relate to your product.Manufacturers must:

  • Remain under the 90 parts per million (ppm) maximum lead in paint/coatings limit
  • Remain under the 300 ppm maximum lead in substrate materials limit
  • Remain under the 1,000 ppm maximum limit for presence of phthalates
  • Adhere to small parts safety requirements for children’s products intended for ages 3 years and under
  • Provide tracking labels, including information about the location and date of production, batch and run numbers, and other identifying characteristics, permanently affixed to the product and packaging by whatever means suitable 
  • Meet wearing apparel flammability requirements
  • Meet children’s sleepwear flammability requirements
  • Provide or obtain a certificate of compliance for all products subject to any CPSC regulation.

For more information on these regulations, visit www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsia.html#bytopic.


2. Devise a plan for ensuring compliance.

These tips can help you avoid common pitfalls:

  • Allow adequate lead time to build a compliant product from design through production.
  • Require component suppliers to provide only products that have been tested and certified to be compliant.
  • Be aware of all government regulations you are obligated to meet.
  • Institute necessary record-keeping procedures to validate test results of components to finished products.
  • Understand your buyer’s specific requirements beyond CPSIA, as some retailers use other relevant standards such as California Proposition 65, which covers restricted substances for many products, including children’s. (While failing CA Prop 65 requirements does not mean you cannot sell your product in California, it must be labeled as containing toxic, harmful substances. Read more at www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65/prop65_list/newlist.html.)

3. Determine which time- and money-saving tips are right for your business.

Know the benefits and possible drawbacks associated with each testing method:

Composite Testing

Tip: Up to three colors of paint/coatings can be tested at once to reduce the number of individual tests required, thus reducing the overall cost.

Caveat: When more than one color is mixed, there is a greater chance of error in calculating the precise amount of lead in the paint. Therefore, a margin of error must be built into the requirement or you could have a false positive result. Also, if the product fails, the paint/coatings must be tested individually.

XFR Screening

Tip: Use this method to screen homogeneous substrates to reduce testing time and cost.

Caveat: XRF has some limitations. For example, it’s not appropriate for testing painted zippers, as the X-ray will read through the paint layer and give an inaccurate reading. Also, components that are too small or have curved surfaces may not produce accurate results. And lead results within an inconclusive specified range should be retested by chemical analysis.

Component Testing

Tip: Test individual components like buttons, snaps and zippers throughout the supply chain before production is completed.

Caveat: The CPSC has yet to clearly define “finished product.” There hasn’t been clear direction as to whether finished product means a complete garment, or the “finished” components that make up the garment.

The most efficient and effective way to ensure regulatory compliance is to evaluate your company’s needs throughout the entire production process and work with a testing partner to design a custom program. Under the proper guidance, small changes in your operation can make a huge difference to your company’s bottom line and your customer’s piece of mind.


—Louann Spirito is the director of technical support, softlines, for SGS Consumer Testing Services, a division of SGS Group in Fairfield, N.J. A leading testing, inspection, accreditation and certification company with CPSIA-accredited labs, SGS can guide you through the process of building a program that will suit your company’s specific needs. Technical resources and specialized informational seminars will help you explore time- and money-saving solutions where possible. For details, visit www.us.sgs.com.