JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Larry Neill has $118,000 worth of small motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles sitting on his lot in Missouri's capital city. He'll be fined if he sells any of them.
Neill, who owns Larry's Motor Sports in Jefferson City, cannot sell or repair the bikes because of a new federal law that bans lead from all toys intended for children younger than 12, including small motorcycles and ATVs.
"These little products are the gateway to our business," Neill said. "When some bureaucrat in Washington decides we can't even sell these products, it's just pretty unfair."
Neill isn't alone. A national motorcycle trade group says dealers across the country cannot sell roughly $100 million worth of the child-sized bikes. Including parts, service, accessories and personnel, the market could lose nearly $1 billion annually, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
The federal law, which took effect Feb. 10, bans lead above a minuscule level in children's toys. The trade group wants federal regulators to exempt motorcycles from the law because they don't pose a threat to kids.
"Kids don't eat or lick ATV or motorcycle parts," said Paul Vitrano, a lawyer for the trade group.
Vitrano said he's skeptical that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission will grant that exemption.
Commission spokesman Joe Martyak said the law is written so narrowly that the agency would be hard pressed to grant a waiver. The law says exemptions can be granted only to products that do not result in any _ not even a tiny amount of _ absorption of lead.
"If the word 'any' were missing, that would leave more flexibility to the agency," he said. "That's traditionally the way the agency has operated."
Martyak said only Congress, not the commission, can make that kind of change.
ATVs and dirt bikes aren't the only problems. Martyak said libraries cannot lend children's books printed before 1980 that contain lead in the ink. Thrift shops are barred from selling some clothes because of lead in zipper clasps. Many bicycles can't be sold because the valve stem on the tires contains a small amount of lead.
"It has picked up an enormous amount of things in the safety net," he said.
Neill was with a group of Missouri lawmakers and young bikers at a news conference Wednesday to raise awareness of the issue.
If motorcycles are not excluded from the federal law, Neill said manufacturers would most likely buy back the bikes and ship them to Canada or Mexico. In the future, companies probably would decorate the bikes intended for sale in the U.S. with a different kind of paint.
But Vitrano said there is no adequate substitute for lead in some motorcycle parts. He argued that because most of those parts are in the engine, they pose little threat to children.
Besides simply prohibiting vehicle sales, the law also says repair shops cannot fix the bikes or sell replacement parts containing lead. Shop owners say that simply doesn't make sense.
"Who's ever heard of a child getting lead poisoning from chewing on a wire harness?" said Craig Silvers, who owns the Motorcycle Doctor in Camdenton.
On the Net:
Safety Commission: http://www.cpsc.gov/index.html