September 30, 2010

Science Kits For Kids Under The Microscope

Hands-on science kits that are produced to get kids excited about science could have an unclear future as debates arise on the safety of the kits, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been caught up in deliberation for weeks as it writes up guidelines on what makes a product safe for children, and which products need to undergo stricter safety testing as part of a 2008 law.

The debate has included the classroom science kits and some of the items they contain, such as paper clips to show kids how magnetism works.

The kit makers asked for a testing exemption for the paper clips and other items. The commission declined to grant them a blanket waiver as part of the guidance the agency approved Wednesday in a 3-2 vote.

The guidance for businesses is supposed to help them sort out what products need to be tested under the law passed by Congress in 2008 that requires thorough safety checks for lead, chemicals, flammability and other dangers.

The kit makers argue that the items contained in the science kits are not harmful to children, would be too expensive to test, and shouldn't have to be tested because they are everyday items found in homes and schools that don't have to be tested if bought separately.

They say the testing requirements could force them to market their kits to schools for older children instead of the under-13 groups the law covers. And while the laws wouldn't ban the kits, manufacturers say it may cease to supply the kits to elementary school children because of the required testing for a number of items they contain.

In coming up with guidelines for child product safety, the CPSC says that coming up with a clearer definition of what a children's product is, was broader than the science kits and caused weeks of discussion, late-night meetings and anxiety for CPSC officials. A vote on the issue had previously been delayed three times.

Commissioner Anne Northup told AP that the guidance for businesses did not carve out products that pose little or no risk, such as a simple teddy bear lamp in a child's room. While a lamp adorned with a teddy bear could be considered a child's product, the same lamp without the bear deco could be placed in a child's room and require no testing whatsoever.

"We are not making reasonable decisions," Northup said before her vote against the guidance document.

"The reason for this law is to ensure that products for children are safe," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel at the Consumer Federation of America.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, known as CPSIA, defines a children's product as an item designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger.


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