New lead law leaves thrift stores in limbo

Nikki Gamer

New federal legislation that has banned the resale of most children’s clothing items and toys has left many of the town’s secondhand-store owners and volunteers confused, angry and, most of all, frustrated.

The all-encompassing Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which was enacted in mid-February, bans the sale of children’s products with more than 600 parts per million (ppm) total lead.

That means all children’s clothing for kids ages 12 and under with any zippers, metal or vinyl snaps, closures, appliqués or rhinestones will be shelved, and will most likely be thrown out. Further, all donations made to stores with regards to those types of items will be rejected.

Stores that do not comply with the federal law could face civil, or even criminal, penalties.

Since the law went into effect, both the Light House Thrift Shop, 149 Pleasant St., and the Magic Hat Thrift Store, which is run out of the Veterans Middle School, have pulled most of their children’s items from their shelves.

“Initially, I was perplexed and bewildered,” said Kimba Jackson of the new legislation.

Jackson volunteers at the Magic Hat Thrift Store through the Coffin-Gerry School PTO, and said that everyone affiliated with the store is trying to wrap his or her head around the new law’s ramifications. Meanwhile, dozens of volunteers for the store have been called in to help sort through the heaps of clothing that need to be stored away.

The Magic Hat Thrift Store seems to be most impacted by the new legislation. Nearly 30 percent of the store’s revenue comes from children’s clothing, which means a significant source of potential funding for the school system’s PTOs and enrichment programs will be lost.

Not only that, from the looks of it, the law has thrown the store into utter chaos. The back room is filled with masses of clothing, while the front of the store seems sparse. Further, volunteers have become frenzied and confused as to what to do with the banned items.

“The new guidelines are very unclear and need clarification,” said Gale Argentine, who is on the store’s board of directors. “That’s why we are having such difficulty.”

Argentine found out about the ban through a news article that was written on the topic and immediately took action to rid the store’s shelves of such items. But she said the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government agency charged with enforcing the ban, has been less than clear about what to do with those items after they are taken off store shelves.

So for now, volunteers for Magic Hat are putting the clothes away in bins until there is clarification from the government.

“It’s ambiguous what should and shouldn’t be done,” Argentine said. “We’re just hoping for the best.”

Argentine explained that the store is still accepting donations of children’s items, but her volunteer staff will have to thoroughly review any and all items before re-selling them.

The new legislation comes at an inopportune time. As the recession continues to affect local residents, parents looking for a cheaper alternative to their children’s shopping needs seem to be out of luck.

“It’s so frustrating. The pragmatic side of me says, ‘How can we be throwing away perfectly good items, especially in this economy?’” store volunteer Jackson said. “I’m angry because with all the things you could legislate — I’m not sure that controlling the toxic waste of our children’s blue jeans is a top priority… I get the toy thing, but I don’t get this.”