As the designated point person at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) dealing with inquiries from small business, you might guess that I receive many telephone calls and emails seeking answers to regulatory questions. And you’d certainly be right. Every month, I field scores of regulatory inquiries, and I’ve found that many are from people in the business of garment decoration, and specifically, screen printing.
I have heard from solo “mompreneurs,” who want to screen print infant clothing, individual screening shops, and some of the largest textile ink manufacturers in the business, not to mention everyone in between. The one common thread in these conversations is that everyone wants to be in compliance with the requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), but they are confused about exactly what being compliant means and where to begin the process.
For those unfamiliar with the CPSIA, the law has fundamentally changed the way the CPSC regulates products designed or intended primarily for children age 12 and younger. Yes, that includes children’s T-shirts, infant bodysuits, children’s sleepwear, and similar items for that age group.
The key substantive changes to requirements for these children’s products and for the screen printing industry were the addition of new regulations limiting the total lead content in the substrates of children’s products, banning certain phthalates in toys and child care articles, and lowering the limits on the permissible amount of lead in paint and other similar surface coatings and substrates.
It makes sense to take a moment to clarify that federal regulations treat the underlying base materials (the substrates) differently from the materials that lie on top of the substrate (i.e. paint or ink). The limits for lead are different for the substrate (100 parts per million) than in the ink or paint on the surface of a product (90 parts per million). Also, while the numbers are “very close” numerically, it is important to know that the test methods for each requirement are different. Therefore, you need to know which requirement you are testing for and why.
In addition to these substantive requirements, the CPSIA added new procedural requirements, including requirements to third party test, using CPSC-accepted laboratories; to issue certificates of conformity; and to affix permanent tracking labels to children’s products.
Substrate or surface coating?
The question that seems to be on everyone’s mind in this industry is how the CPSC views screen printing: Is screen printing a surface coating, or does it bond with the underlying textile in such a way that the CPSC views it as part of the substrate?
The answer, as with most factual determinations, is that it depends. Specifically, it depends on whether the textile ink bonds with the fiber or whether it can be scraped off of the textile substrate.
The majority of ink systems used in textile screen printing are plastisol or water-based. If applied and cured properly, they fuse with the textile substrate and will not be able to be scraped off the substrate. (Of course, each case may vary, depending upon the type of ink system used, the individual characteristics of the screen print and substrate, and whether the screen printer properly cleaned the screens with compliant solvents and correctly applied the inks.)
Where the ink cannot be scraped off the textile, CPSC staff treats the ink as being part of the substrate. In that circumstance, the entire children’s garment part (i.e., both the textile garment piece that is printed and the screen printing on the garment tested together), would be treated as a substrate and must comply with the 100 parts per million limit for total lead content. Other distinct, separable parts, such as zippers and buttons, would be tested separately for compliance with the 100 parts per million limit for total lead content.
Exceptions for lead
Importantly, the Commission has already determined that many natural and manufactured textiles (dyed and undyed) will not contain lead in excess of the 100 parts per million limit, and therefore, these items actually are exempt from testing. (See 16 CFR §1500.91.) If, however, you choose to apply a screen print to such a textile, as discussed above, the resulting garment would need to be tested for compliance with the total lead content requirement.
On the other hand, if you are able to obtain a Component Part Certificate for the ink or paint used to screen print, or you can test the ink or paint used to screen print using composite testing, you may not need to test the entire finished garment and may only need to third-party test the ink or paint.
In so doing, you must remember that testing the ink or the paint is based on the weight of the dried film, not its liquid state. Also, remember that, for composite testing, you don’t actually have to scrape the ink off of the screen printed shirt and destroy a large number of samples; it can be scraped off any substrate, such as a glass slide.
If you intend to rely on the Commission’s determination to avoid testing the textile substrate of your children’s product for total lead content, you must secure assurances (for your records) from your supplier or manufacturer that the materials are, indeed, what your supplier or manufacturer claims they are.
Specialty ink systems
Certain specialty textile ink systems may effectively act like dyes, such as those that are absorbed into the fabric and bond with the fabric substrate, effectively acting like a dye (i.e. discharge and sublimation inks). CPSC staff treats such textile ink systems as a “dye-like ink.”
In such a case, the garment would likely be treated as a dyed textile and would not be subject to any testing for lead in paint or for total lead content. (See 16 CFR §1500.91.) Again, each case may vary, depending on the type of ink system used and the individual characteristics of the print and substrate.
In addition to the limits on lead content in the substrate and in surface coatings, there is also a ban on certain phthalates in child care articles used to facilitate sleeping and eating of children age three and younger. In this industry, CPSC staff has interpreted the ban as applying to sleepwear for children three and younger and bibs, but it does not apply to items such as ordinary T-shirts and similar garments.
If your product is subject to the ban on phthalates, the Commission has stated that it is unnecessary to test and certify materials that are known not to contain phthalates or to certify that phthalates are absent from materials that are known not to contain phthalates. For example, materials such as untreated/unfinished wood, metal, natural fibers; natural latex and mineral products; and paper products (paper, paperboard, linerboard and medium, and pulp) do not require testing for phthalates.
In the screen-printing industry, however, it is highly likely that manufacturers of children’s sleepwear and other similar products will have to test their products for phthalates, given the long history of plasticizers used in many textile ink systems and the shared production facilities of many screen printers.
Finally, all garments for adults and children are also subject to other longstanding, substantive regulatory requirements, such as requirements on the flammability of wearing apparel and children’s sleepwear.
Certification and third-party testing
The CPSIA represents the first time, under federal law, that manufacturers and importers of children’s products are required to third-party test and certify their children’s products for compliance.
Certification means that manufacturers and importers of children’s products must issue a written Children’s Product Certificate (CPC) for each product, which identifies the product, the rule or standard with which it complies, the CPSC-accepted third-party laboratory where it was tested, and other requirements. Certification must be based upon the results of third-party testing. Third-party testing means testing performed by a third party, accredited laboratory that the Commission has accepted to perform the specific tests associated with each children’s product safety rule.
To locate a CPSC-accepted laboratory to test your product, to review a model CPC, and for more details about what third party testing and certification means for your business, please see the links provided in the resource box on the opposite page.
In certain situations, qualifying small-batch manufacturers may not be required to third-party test some of their children’s products in order to certify compliance with one particular group of children’s product safety rules. In this case, qualifying small batch manufacturers that are registered with the CPSC may not need to third-party test their products for compliance with the limits on total lead content in the garment and for phthalates in the types of garments discussed above.
However, all children’s products still must comply with the underlying regulations and all registered small batch manufacturers must still issue a CPC.
More information on third-party testing requirements for small-batch manufacturers is available at www.cpsc.gov/smallbatch.
Note: This article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. It has not been reviewed or approved by the Commission and does not necessarily represent their views. Any views expressed in this communication may be changed or superseded by the Commission.