If Congress doesn't act quickly, tens of thousands of Americans will lose their jobs - and several hundred New York businesses will get hit particularly hard.
The problem is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which Congress passed overwhelmingly last year because of fears about lead in toys from China. Bizarrely, the law threatens US-based children's clothing makers as well as toy makers - and even libraries. Its staggering, unintended consequences have prompted outrage from everyone from "mommy-bloggers" to some environmentalists.
In the name of safety, the law imposes absurd standards and insane testing requirements. These aren't based on science, but on political hysteria - and they're a major burden on business. In this recession, they could close down countless companies whose products are perfectly safe.
One example: The law not only requires testing of components of children's clothing for tiny levels of lead, but also separate testing of each different style of clothes, even if made from the same materials.
What's worse, the Consumer Product Safety Commission interprets the law to apply to kid's clothing retroactively. So products already en route to stores - even if they contain no lead - will be illegal to sell after Feb. 10 if they haven't been tested.
Wal-Mart is telling its suppliers that everything it has in stock that hasn't already been tested must be out of stores by Feb. 1 - even if that means sending the stuff back to suppliers.
This is creating chaos for everyone involved in making and selling children's items. Unless Congress acts now, tens of millions of dollars worth of safe children's clothing will be destroyed - and that's from New York City clothing makers alone.
Dozens of small, family-owned New York businesses, already struggling, will shut down and/or lay off their workers. The city could lose a quarter to a half of its 8,000 garment-industry jobs within weeks. Cory Silverstein of Kids Headquarters on 34th Street fears he may have to lay off close to 100 of his 600 employees in the city.
Meanwhile, the test requirements will make children's clothing more expensive.
Opponents of this "safety" law include not just businesses but activists like Chicago writer and environmentalist Manda Aufochs Gillespie, a.k.a. "the Green Mama." She writes that it "has made things much harder than they need to be": Even products that already meet much-stricter organic-certification requirements, as well as European Union standards, are not exempt from the "safety" testing requirements.
Companies like Chapter One Organics are also angry - because big business can absorb the costs and pass them along to consumers, while smaller companies will be forced out of business.
The law's onerous testing requirements may even apply to children's books. If so, until every single children's book is certified safe, libraries would be off-limits to children. So the American Library Association is lobbying for a quick fix to exempt libraries from the law.
But the law is so fundamentally flawed that it can't just be tweaked - it must be repealed. Then, Congress can consider a more science-based approach to safety that protects children without destroying whole industries.
The immediate need, however, is for Congress to simply delay the law from taking effect. If it doesn't act now, thousands of small businesses will close and consumers will pay more for everything they buy their kids.