Feds Stall on Lead Law for Youth Motorbikes

April 6, 2009

The head of the federal commission responsible for consumer safety has decided to stall enforcement of an anti-lead rule when it comes to youth ATVs and dirt bikes. But it’s not clear if she has the final word.

Acting Consumer Product Safety Commission chair Nancy Nord issued a statement Friday that said she was directing agency staff to delay enforcement of the law for 12 months on children’s all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes.

The motorcycle industry had asked for an exemption. Since mid-February, shops and dealers nationwide haven’t been selling the vehicles and bikes for kids because of the law — which sets limits on the amount of lead allowed in children’s products.

Nord’s chief of staff, Joe Martyak, said the stay would take effect this week. But the agency’s other commissioner, Thomas H. Moore, seemed to contradict that.

In a statement, Moore said it takes the vote of both commissioners to stay enforcement of a congressionally mandated ban.

“I have not, as yet, finalized my decision,” said Moore. “It is premature for the press, or anyone else, to take the unprecedented release by one commissioner of their vote and statement prior to the due date of a vote, to assume that this will be the final agency action.”

Moore also chided Nord for disclosing how she will vote on the ATV issue before the voting period ends.

The new law, called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, was intended to keep lead away from young children by banning the metal, except in small amounts, from products for children 12 years and under. Lead can cause irreversible learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

The motorcycle industry says some bike parts, such as brake and clutch levers or the valve stems on tires, contain small quantities of lead, but the risk of children ingesting the lead is minimal, it says.

In her statement, Nord said she cannot vote to grant the industry’s request for an exemption because the law does not provide her with enough flexibility to do so. Instead, she said she is directing CPSC staff to delay enforcement for motorbikes. During this “time-out,” she said she hoped Congress would “consider how the law needs to be fine-tuned.”

Nord said she is concerned that the lack of youth ATVs on the market would result in parents buying adult-sized motorbikes and ATVs for their kids — machines that aren’t built for children and can cause them serious harm.

A coalition of industry groups expressed disappointment that Nord would not vote for the exemption. “It is now obvious that the only permanent solution to this problem is that Congress needs to fix the CPSIA and put the safety of our children first,” the coalition said.

Last week, CPSC staff recommended denying the industry’s request for a waiver. The recommendation notes that the law was written to allow no absorption whatsoever of lead into a child’s body, and such a scenario is possible though unlikely with youth-sized vehicles.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has introduced a bill in Congress that would make an exemption for youth dirt bikes and ATVs.

Congress passed the product safety law last year in the wake of a record number of recalls of lead-tainted toys. Lawmakers, consumer groups and children’s safety advocates praised it.

But the law has been panned by others as overly broad and so sweeping that there have been questions about whether products never imagined — bicycles, books and children’s clothing — can be sold.

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