Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Hope?

The CPSC FAQ on the CPSIA confirms that the CPSIA applies to books. It seems more reasonable to assume that the intent of Congress was to ensure that the toys and small component parts bundled with books such as the Klutz books were included. After all, they might be ingested by small children. I hate to think what this means for classic children's books like Pat the Bunny.

Unfortunately, I can't argue that small children aren't going to eat books. My mother used to put books in my crib so I'd grow up seeing books as familiar, comforting items. I'm sure I've chewed my share of books. I put books in my kids' cribs, of course - and I'm sure they chewed their share, too. Furthermore, I was reading adult books well before the age of 13, so I'm not sure the intent of the publisher should matter; in a household full of bookshelves groaning under the weight of books, kids will be exposed to whatever materials are contained therein - including potentially dangerous ideas about limiting government interference.

Older and wiser, we no longer put books into our mouths - we just feed our brains on them. I think that it's more important to devour the ideas in books than to worry about any miniscule amount of lead that could possibly be found in the materials used to make them. In fact, RR Donnelley, a leading full-service provider of print and related services around the globe, has established a portal site at that provides evidence from extensive testing showing that the total amount of lead contained in books, generally, would be "none" or less than the most stringent lead limits imposed by the Act. That includes books printed in China.

There is hope - if logic and reason still prevail. Allan Adler, Vice President for Legal & Government Affairs with the Association of American Publishers, wrote to Cheryl Falvey on December 4, 2009, to "formally request the Office of General Counsel to immediately issue an advisory opinion letter to confirm the limited coverage of books and other non-book, paper-based printed materials under the lead, phthalate and applicable ASTM standards requirements referenced in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (“CPSIA”)."

And there is this tantalizing hint that some relief may be forthcoming: "Children’s Books and the CPSIA – STANDBY - Situation 'Fluid'" from the ALA District Dispatch at - but "standby" doesn't offer the definite comfort that a clear advisory opinion letter from Falvey would. Let's hope that tomorrow brings good news.

Again, I would urge solidarity between authors and publishers, artisans and clothiers - we are stronger together, and it would be wrong to take a partial victory and run with it, abandoning those whose issues with this law have not yet been resolved. Many of us are parents: It was for our children, ostensibly, that this law was enacted - ironically, it is for our children and our families that I believe we need to urge repeal of the CPSIA or a clear exemption for books and handmade toys, clothes, and accessories.

What about libraries and schools? Clearly, the law will affect new acquisitions of books and textbooks. But what about their existing collections? The "Falvey Memorandum" dated November 18, 2008, states that CPSIA is retroactive, which some have taken to mean destroying books or prohibiting children from accessing the library. While there seems to be some relief for thrift shops and resellers, it is unclear that this would help libraries and schools. A "clarification" issued by the CPSC indicated that the testing and certification requirements of the CPSIA did not apply to thrift stores and resellers of used children's goods. It did not, in fact, let these businesses off the hook; they are still liable for the lead and phthalate content of the products they sell - whether they do so knowingly or unknowingly, and regardless of whether anyone is harmed by a product found to contain lead or phthalates. That is still bound to have a chilling effect and lead to fewer children's products being available in these stores - and more of them ending up in landfills. With penalties ranging up to five years in jail and $100,000, who can blame them?

Stuffed animals may or may not require certification; according to the CPSC FAQ, "Most stuffed animals would be considered to be children's products and presumably toys. A manufacturer would need to determine whether the design of the stuffed animals is such that it is subject to the lead paint limits, the lead content limits or the phthalate limits." If one labeled books, "Collector's Item: Not Intended for Sale to or Use by Children," would it be possible to get around the testing and certification requirements of the CPSIA? I have some stuffed animals that were over $100 twenty years ago. They could be considered "works of art," and they are larger and heavier than an infant or a small toddler. But my kids have always loved to lounge on them and play with them - and I haven't stopped them.

Whether or not the CPSIA decides to exempt certain products from the testing and certification requirements of the Act, some manufacturers and distributors are taking no chances. There is anecdotal evidence that "one of the leading U.S. suppliers of science educational materials has suspended sales of all light bulbs (principally microscope light bulbs) owing to the little dot of solder found on the bottom." It's quite likely that these bulbs contain no lead solder in the first place (there have been lead-free alternatives on the market since at least 2006), but assuming there were no comparable, lead-free light bulbs available on the market, these products should be exempt from the new requirements. According to the CPSC FAQ: "16 C.F.R. § 1500.85 provides that certain articles that are intended for children for educational purposes are exempt for classification as a banned hazardous substance under the FHSA and the lead limits under CPSIA if the functional purpose of the particular educational item requires inclusion of the hazardous substance, and it bears labeling giving adequate directions and warnings for safe use, and is intended for use by children who have attained sufficient maturity, and may reasonably be expected, to read and heed such directions and warnings. For example, an electronics kit or robotics kit would be considered educational and the inclusion of a lead-containing component would not subject the kit to the lead testing requirements because the use of lead in some components is required to make the electronic device. Similarly, the materials used for examination or experimentation for science study such as soil, rocks, chemicals, dissections, etc. would also be exempt." Let's get real for a second: How often do kids under 13 change the light bulbs on microscopes? Isn't it usually a teacher or a parent that handles that minor bit of microscope maintenance?

What about telescopes? According to Richard Woldenberg, Chairman of Learning Resources, Inc., "The cost of the testing [ONE telescope product under the CPSIA] is a mere $24,050 for this single item. The average annual sales of this item are approximately $32,000 over the past two years. Needless to say, we cannot afford to spend $24,050 to test this (or any) item. I presume that Congress intended this result and wants us to stop selling telescopes to keep everyone safe. I guess kids can see the planets by squinting from now on." It may seem ridiculous and alarmist, but there is no obvious exemption for telescopes.

Such knee-jerk reactions in the face of the CSPIA, which is, in itself, a knee-jerk reaction to the flood of lead tainted children's products in recent years, serve to highlight the (presumably) unintended and ludicrous consequences of the Act. However, they also serve as fuel for those who would make light of our concerns and dismiss them as "alarmist" or "hyperbolic" or "misinformed." That this law takes effect on February 10, 2009, is cause for alarm - possibly even a small panic. It is not cause to jump off a bridge or start a bonfire of classic children's literature.

Here's hoping for good news - and a happy Monday!


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  1. Thanks for all of the information, Holly. I can't even remember how many TV Guides and magazines my kids ate when they were little. I was born in the 60s, played with lead paint toys, had asbestos ceilings, ate paste, sniffed my share of ink pens ... you name it. I'm all for companies being safe for our kids, but it sounds like they didn't think this one out too well. Thanks for your post to help me understand it better.

  2. Hah - remember MINT-FLAVORED PASTE?? What were those nefarious marketing folks THINKING, encouraging us Kindergartners to eat PASTE? (Isn't that made from horses' hooves? Ewwwwww.) And Soylent Green is...never mind.

    Asbestos kept us SAFE back then - safe from fire. It has certainly injured many who worked with it, day in and day out, without adequate filtration. And lead has injured or killed many kids.

    Oh, hey, and...Aquadots, anyone? Just over a year ago, the popular toy was linked to a "date rape drug" (the chemicals in it turned into GHB when ingested): ...

    Mom & Pop manufacturers of children's products are not cooking up toxic soup like this in their kitchens - most, ironically, went into business to produce SAFE stuff for kids to avoid exactly these sorts of things that are more frequently associated with mass-marketed, imported toys.

  3. Awesome work. I'm going to Facebook this.

  4. I know and now those Aqua Dots are back out again under a new name. I'm sure they went through a testing process, but still. None of this makes any sense.


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