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Congress bans kids from libraries?

New safety law may prohibit children under 12 from libraries – or make many books illegal
By LISSA HARRIS  |  January 9, 2009


Is it possible that Congress has just inadvertently turned millions of children’s books into contraband? At the moment, anything seems possible with regard to the sprawling, 62-page Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), passed this past August with overwhelming margins in both the House (424-1) and the Senate (89-3).

The CPSIA, intended to keep lead out of toys, may well also keep books out of libraries, says Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association.

“We are very busy trying to come up with a way to make it not apply to libraries,” said Sheketoff. But unless she succeeds in lobbying Capitol Hill for an exemption, she believes libraries have two choices under the CPSIA: “Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she says, “or they ban children from the library.”

On February 10, the new law gets teeth. After that day, all products for children under 12 — books, games, toys, sports equipment, furniture, clothes, DVDs, and just about every other conceivable children’s gadget and gewgaw — must be tested for lead, and fall below a new 600 part-per-million limit, or face the landfill. Thanks to a September 12 memo from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the lead limit applies not only to new products, but also to inventory already on store shelves.

“Under this new regime, you are suspect until proven safe,” says Allan Adler, the American Association of Publishers’ vice president for legal and governmental affairs.

As the February 10 deadline approaches, the CPSIA has been causing increasing consternation — and, at times, hysteria — among makers and sellers of children’s products, who are just beginning to realize the financial and logistical nightmare they face in trying to comply. Lead testing promises to be expensive — from several hundred to several thousand dollars per test, depending on the product. And each batch of each item must be tracked and tested, making compliance brutally expensive for items with small runs.

Historically, books have been considered more dangerous to read than to eat. Regardless, a memo from the CPSC, issued the day before Christmas Eve, explicitly quashed any hope that books might escape the new law. To make matters worse, even publishers that have already had their products tested for lead will be forced to retest. In the same memo, existing test results based on “soluble lead” — a measure of whether lead will migrate out of a product — were rejected by the CPSC because they did not measure “total lead content.”

The CPSC has not issued any ruling on whether libraries, schools, and other institutions that loan — rather than sell — books will be subject to the law. Without such clear guidance, says Adler, schools and libraries should assume they have to comply. 

“If [the CPSC is] going to say that we’re being alarmist,” says Adler, “that’s fine, as long as they provide an explanation that we can understand and rely on. That’s what’s been missing from this entire discussion.”

Regardless of whether libraries and schools are affected, the CPSIA is poised to take a massive bite out of the book industry. Large retailers are beginning to demand that publishers comply, even in advance of the law’s deadline. This Wednesday, sent a general letter informing its vendors that, if they did not certify their products by January 15, the items would be returned at the sellers’ expense.

Like their peers in the toy and garment industries, many sellers of children’s books are just beginning to try to understand how the CPSIA will affect their businesses.

“All of us are totally in the dark,” says Terri Schmitz, owner of the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline. “I can’t make a decision, because I don’t know what the regulations are. We’re all sort of in limbo here.”

Libraries may yet escape unscathed. The CPSIA is changing rapidly as the CPSC scrambles to clarify the confusing lead law before it goes into effect. Thrift stores, consignment shops, and other used-goods stores got a partial reprieve yesterday in a hastily drafted CPSC memo: While resellers still face stiff civil and criminal penalties if they sell lead-contaminated items, used goods will not have to be tested for lead.

In lieu of actual testing, the memo urged resellers to “pay special attention to certain product categories,” like jewelry and painted toys, which are “likely to have lead content.”

Which prompts the obvious question: If other children’s products aren’t likely to contain lead, why is the CSPC regulating them?

From the sweeping language of the law, it appears Congress left them no choice. The Act covers any “consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age and younger.”

“Consider for a minute that a twelve-year-old is a junior high school student,” says Adler. “This is not somebody who is likely to be chewing or sucking on a book.”

Lissa Harris can be reached

  Topics: News Features , American Library Association , Books , Congress ,  More more >
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Even if the Consumer Product Safety Commission eventually promises that they won't go after thrift stores, libraries, and schools, how much protection is that really? Right now, the CPSC is made up of Nancy Nord and Thomas Hill Moore. What? Two people? Oh, yes. That was a surprise to me too. The federal government has given two unelected officials supreme power over what can be bought and sold in America! In 2009, the commission will increase to five members, but that's still too few people with too much power. As the CPSC membership changes and their budget increases dramatically with new funding called for in the CPSIA, how can we be confident that this year's promise not to pursue technical "violations" won't turn into next year's special project? We need Congress to *mandate* permanent exemptions. If lead is not used as an ingredient, material, or process of manufacture, the children's products produced should be exempt from needless testing. Americans do not want to see prices of children's products go up across the board over a silly requirement to test lead-free products for lead. Permanent *legislative* exemptions are urgently needed for lead-free books, educational supplies, special needs and adaptive devices, and homemade goods such as handmade sweaters and baby blankets. We also want a permanent *legislative* exemption for used items. Some familes rely on thrift stores and charities to put clothing and shoes on their kids; let's let them continue to do so. We don't want higher prices. We don't want small manufacturers to go out of business. We want to keep specialty products on the market. If lead isn't used in the manufacture of the product, it does not need to be tested. American book publishers, American libraries, and American small businesses and home manufacturers have never been demonstrated to be sources of lead. NEVER. Books are good for children. Books are healthy for children. The more the merrier. Please take the good intentions of this legislation and direct it toward past offenders and likely causes of harm. Valerie Jacobsen
By jacobsenbooks on 01/09/2009 at 6:33:11
Re: Congress bans kids from libraries?
Didn't the clarification published yesterday exempt resale shops and instock inventory: //
By judypm on 01/09/2009 at 8:50:53
Re: Congress bans kids from libraries?
By MICHAEL J. SCHMITZ on 01/09/2009 at 9:38:15
The Press Release did nothing except appease the press.
 Many industries are feeling the potential effects (unintended consequences) of this law.  A note related to the "clarification" CPSC issued - what it said, was yea, we give you permission to not test your products - (the requirement that existing inventory must meet the 600ppm lead requirement), but if you have a product in your inventory (using best judgement) AND it does not meet the law, and someone gets hurt, someone complains, YOU WILL be prosecuted, period. Thanks but no thanks. IF you disagree with this law, write your Congressional Representative- sign the petition at //www.savekidsresale.comDeb
By SaveKidsResale on 01/10/2009 at 1:17:17
Re: Congress bans kids from libraries?
This law - every aspect of it - makes me sick to my stomach... Do we need to find ways to keep our children healthy?  YES!  Do we need to sacrifice WAHM's and raise prices on every day items made by larger companies (who conceivably will be able to afford to do the required testing) to do so.  NO!...  This is America..  A country this advanced should be able to find ways to do so that aren't so devestating.     
By MaxwellsMom on 01/10/2009 at 11:57:08
Re: Congress bans kids from libraries?
 Obama = Change.........this is just the beginning folks..........
By johnnyb on 01/10/2009 at 3:56:15
Re: Congress bans kids from libraries?
You are more likely to find lead in the paint on my 100+ year old building than in the books on the shelves!
By gotsnoenemies on 01/14/2009 at 10:06:00
Re: Congress bans kids from libraries?
Sounds like a good idea to me. Those little kids just make noise and get in the way.
By wodsirk on 01/14/2009 at 3:15:03
Re: Congress bans kids from libraries?
Seems like some badly-implemented regulation, and
a hysterical response.  I think the real worry
here is that by making enough noise about some
problems with the well-intentioned regulations,
manufacturers and toy shop owners will get the
whole thing killed and the lead will linger on.

Libraries are perhaps being used as a pawn here:

"Oh no, Congress is banning kids from libraries !
Therefore, none of my old toy stock has any
lead in it."
By chiral on 01/14/2009 at 8:06:23
Not just libraries, also schools and bookstores, too!
The implications of CPSIA spread far and wide. It's not just books at risk, it is even hand-me-down toys and children's clothing. But the impacts on books for kids is particularly outrageous. It smacks of government censorship, basically outlawing all the children's books ever printed because nobody is going to have the money to test them all. So we'll be left with little diversity in children's books and school text books (they are apparently affected, too) for years. Maybe that's the idea? Control what children learn, and you control the future. More info on CPSIA regarding books, libaries, clothes, and toys
By craigsw on 01/16/2009 at 5:50:02

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