Until 1985, it was legal for trace amounts of lead to be used in the inks and paints used in children’s books. But the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (PDF), which went into effect February 10, bans the sale of any children’s products containing more than 600 parts per million (ppm) total lead, no matter how unlikely it is that the items will feature at a toddler buffet. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has “clarified” the issue with contradictory guidance that has thrift stores and even libraries disposing of mountains of books published before the magic date – and hoping that a stray copy of The Wind in the Willows doesn’t bring down the wrath of the regulators.
The CPSIA has already drawn plenty of notice for its potential impact on small toy makers who are unlikely to be able to foot the bill for testing and certifying their products. Bubbling under the surface, however, have been worries about the potential impact of the law on the otherwise lively market for vintage children’s books, and even on the children’s sections at libraries. The law is retroactive, affecting even vintage items sold at thrift stores, and books are included among the long list of regulated products. The American Library Association says it can cost hundreds of dollars to test a single book.
Aware of public concerns over a law that effectively bans millions of books, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued guidance intended to reassure the public. As is usually the case with bureaucracies, however, the “clarification” at best delayed the day of reckoning by a year, and also sowed confusion.
On January 30, the CPSC delayed until 2010 testing requirements for many of the products affected by the new law. That was especially welcome news for libraries fearful of the expense and difficulty of certifying Winnie the Pooh as non-threatening to kiddies.
But that’s just one year, and it’s not the end of the confusion.
A January 8, 2009 press release from the CPSC said:
The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
Combined with formal guidance that “Books – ‘ordinary’ children’s titles e.g. paperbacks and hardbacks” are “OK to sell, if printed after 1985” that seems to suggest that thrift shops don’t actually have to test their inventory, but they’re still on the hook if they actually sell older books that later turn out to have been printed with leaded ink.
The only exception appears to be vintage children’s books intended for sale to adult collectors.
So now bookshops and thrift stores are throwing out large chunks of their inventory for fear they will be prosecuted, see:
I hadn’t heard about the books connection before but this law is apparenly killing small toymakers and crafts people. But, hey, it’s for the chiiilllldrennn.