Feds Target Yard Sales

Thinking of having a fall yard sale to clean out some of the clutter from your house? Be careful, or it could get you in trouble with the Feds, and cost you up to $15 million in fines. Its no joke: the Consumer Product Safety Commission has launched a new enforcement campaign, which it calls “Resale Round-up,” targeting the resale of potentially harmful children’s toys and other consumer products. Potential violators, the CPSC warns, include “thrift stores, consignment stores, charities, and individuals holding yard sales and flea markets.” Even e-bay sales are at risk.

The initiative is an outgrowth of legislation enacted by Congress last year tightening safety rules in the wake of disclosures of lead and other defects in Chinese-made toys sold in the U.S. Of course, no one is in favor of unsafe toys. But does it really make sense to target the millions of Americans who re-sell items from their own home each year? Simply identifying what is prohibited and what is not can be a challenge — even with the help of CPSC’s 24-page handbook on the topic. Have books to sell? OK, says CPSC, as as long as they aren’t printed after 1985 and have a metal spiral binding (which may contain lead paint). Old clothing? Not OK if it has rhinestones or vinyl plastic snaps.

Not sure if a toy has lead in it? The booklet happily explains that it “would make sense to test” for lead, suggesting: “You may want to hire a qualified, trained person in your area who can quickly screen all of your suspect products with a handheld device called an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) machine.” Or, presumably, you can do it yourself if you have a spare XRF machine in your basement.

No word on how CPSC will be enforcing these rules. Will there be yard sale police going from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac on weekends? Hotlines to report neighbors peddling black market Thomas the Tank Engine trains? The mind boggles.

Product safety is a serious issue, and there certainly is a role for government is protecting consumers from dangerous products. But targeting neighborhood yard sales can’t be the best way to do it. Its no way to run a railroad, not even a little toy one.

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