Thursday, February 19, 2009

News Stories Regarding Lead in Children’s Books Misleading

A spate of stories about the impact of new rules regarding lead content in children’s books published prior to 1985 will not be as disruptive as we’d been brought to believe.

Widespread media and Internet stories had libraries fearing ruination over the testing of their collections and thrift stores afraid they’d have to throw out large quantities of inventory. According to Snopes, the leading authority on urban legends, neither of these things is true. Snopes very sensibly points searchers to a page on the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Web page that clarifies the whole matter. From the CPSC Web site:
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.
As Snopes says:
In other words, used children’s items offered for resale after 10 February 2009 must still meet the new CPSIA standards regarding lead and phthalate content, but vendors will not have to have such items tested and certified. Vendors should therefore “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.”

While the CPSC says “Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties,” a reasonable interpretation of that statement as it applies to the sale of used goods would be that the agency will focus its attentions on those retailers who blatantly take a cavalier attitude towards the used children’s’ items in their inventory by continuing to vend merchandise items they have good reason to suspect contain lead.
Bookmark the Snopes site for future use. It’s a great place to find answers for odd questions.

9 Comments:

Blogger Shauna said...

The stories are not misleading. There have already been reports of bookstores throwing out older children's books and thrift stores pulling all children's items off their shelves and refusing to sell them any more, as they don't want to deal with the potential liability and play the guessing game of what might have lead in it. Resellers are still bound by the new limits and face penalties if they sell anything that exceeds the lead limits, regardless of not being required to test their products.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 8:28:00 AM PST  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

That's what Snopes is saying: the reports are misleading because they're leading people to destroy books when they really don't have to: for anyone's sakes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 8:49:00 AM PST  
Blogger Carol Baicker-McKee said...

Shauna is correct and Snopes is wrong this time. (I used to trust them, but their position on this law is making me wonder what else they're wrong about; ditto for the NYT.)

If Congress intended to exempt resellers, crafters, vintage books, etc. they could easily have written a law that did so.

Furthermore, the CPSC's guidelines and regulations do not have the weight of law (check out their own disclaimers for their various clarifications: the one for their small business guide (http://www.cpsc.gov/ABOUT/Cpsia/smbus/cpsiasbguide.html -- sorry i don't know how to do a link as part of a comment) states: "This information was prepared by CPSC staff, has not been reviewed or approved by, and many not necessarily reflect the
views of, the Commission. It may be subject to change based on Commission action.").

The law also gives each state's attorney general the right to apply the law as he or she sees fit; they are not bound to follow the CPSC's suggestions for more lenient enforcement. The AGs of several states (including CT and CA) have already vowed to enforce the law stringently; most others have remained silent altogether which should hardly comfort resellers and others affected by this law - if they weren't intending to enforce it against small or well-meaning businesses they could easily say so.

Finally, on the subject of vintage books and other child-related collectibles, here's what the CPSC's guide for small businesses says: "Question 17:  Can I sell vintage children’s books and other children’s products that are collectibles? 
  
Yes. Used vintage children’s books and other children’s products sold as collector’s items would not be primarily 
intended for children.  Because of their value and age, they would not be expected to be used by children.  Therefore, 
they do not fall into the definition of children’s product and do not need to comply with the lead limits." 
Aside from the fact that they provide no operational definition for "age and value" (Is 40 years old enough? 30 years? $35 valuable enough? $25?) the vast majority of pre-1985 children's literature would clearly not fall into the category of too valuable to be touched by a child (I routinely spend $1 or less for many of the books I collect. I also let my kids read most of them.) And losing this body of literature would be more than a minor shame -- you can no more claim that modern books make the older ones obsolete and worthless than you can claim that your second child makes the first one obsolete. Older books have value for their historical reflection of children's lives, for their reference value to current writers and illustrators, their supply value for collage and book artists, for parents and other caregivers who are more motivated to read to their children when they can share a favorite from their own childhood, and even, shocking though this is, for the merit of their contents as well as the beauty of the paper, bindings, and printing that are simply no longer used for modern kids' books. And lest you say that someone could just reprint them or copy them electronically, think again. Many are still under copyright and cannot be scanned legally without permission of the copyright holders (good luck tracking down all the still living authors and illustrators or the succession of their heirs if they aren't) and anyhow few publishers will republish oop titles at all, much less forsake all their new lines for years and years to accommodate the republishing that would need to happen to rescue all the old books at risk.

This law makes me so sad and angry. It provides little new or effective protection for children (the recalled toys with lead that prompted CPSIA were already in violation of existing laws and toys do not appear to have been a significant contributor to childhood lead poisoning in any event -- old paint still wins) -- and it will hurt businesses, consumers, taxpayers -- and of course children, who will no longer have access to many valuable (by that I'm mean useful, not expensive) products.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 9:44:00 AM PST  
Blogger Carol Baicker-McKee said...

Also Linda, as the Snopes folks aren't product liability lawyers, I don't know why anyone would trust their from the gut legal interpretation of an untested law.

This paragraph from their website doesn't even make sense:
"While the CPSC says “Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties,” a reasonable interpretation of that statement as it applies to the sale of used goods would be that the agency will focus its attentions on those retailers who blatantly take a cavalier attitude towards the used children’s’ items in their inventory by continuing to vend merchandise items they have good reason to suspect contain lead."

Huh? Where in the CPSC language is the hint that the CPSC is only going after those who are "cavalier" in their attitudes? It reads more like a threat to me.

You should also know that one of the two commissioners at CPSC, Thomas Moore, specifically advised librarians and booksellers to "sequester" or discard books published before 1985 until/unless they are individually tested or there is scientific evidence that they are safe -- I would think that continuing to sell them after this "bright line" advice (as Moore put it) might be seen as having a "cavalier attitude." Do you want to take the chance on a $100,000 fine and five years in prison for each vintage book you sell? I wouldn't.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 1:52:00 PM PST  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

Point of fact: Snopes is never wrong.

:)




Try this link.

Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 4:53:00 PM PST  
OpenID jacobsenbooks said...

Linda, that link states that CPSIA has waived enforcement for post-1985 books. How does it prove anything about the sale of pre-1985 books?

In fact, Snopes does not even address the issue of the 1985 cut-off for children's books.

Snopes is correct on the very fine issue of whether resellers have to test their products. In fact, resellers do not have to test unless they have no other way of knowing which of their products are legal.

On the question of who is likely to go out of business, well I'm not so sure that Snopes' area of expertise is in retail marketing.

Please see the following:
February 9, 2009
Guidance on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) for Small Businesses, Resellers, Crafters and Charities
"[Resellers] are not required to test. However, retailers and resellers (including those who sell on auction Web sites) cannot knowingly sell children’s products that do not meet the requirements of the law.... As a practical matter, you must either: test the product; refuse to accept or sell the product, which will mean disposing of it if you already have it in your inventory; use your best judgment based on your knowledge of the product; or, contact the manufacturer...."

From the same source, Table C: Commonly Resold Children’s Products and Materials
"Books – 'ordinary' children’s titles e.g. paperbacks and hardbacks...OK to sell, if printed after 1985"

February 6, 2009
CPSC Spells Out Enforcement Policy For New Lead Limits In Children’s Products Effective February 10
"Manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers should also be aware that CPSC will not impose penalties against anyone for making, importing, distributing, or selling...an ordinary children’s book printed after 1985."

January 8, 2009
CPSC Clarifies Requirements of New Children’s Product Safety Laws Taking Effect in February
"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."

I own a used bookstore and have consulted three lawyers. Here's what they told me--

#1--If you continue to sell any used children's books you are at risk of prosecution.

#2--You need to rearrange your whole business--signage, policies, inventory layout, and children's activities--so that it is perfectly clear that you are not marketing any pre-1985 children's books as appropriate for children.

(This would make it difficulty to actually sell the books successfully, which is pretty much the whole point of owning a bookstore.)

#3--We don't think you should change your business, because we hope and expect that this law will be changed this year, well before any bookstores are targeted for prosecution.

As to the last, that's my hope, but it will only be changed if we demand that. The commerce committees in both the House and Senate are currently very resistant to permitting the hearings that we need in order to bring about necessary changes to a very bad law.

I have more information at BookroomBlog.com

Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:08:00 PM PST  
Blogger Lori White said...

Doesn't it feel like you've fallen down a rabbit hole? Snopes is insisting that what it wrote is true, becuase the "rumor" it was responding to was that all books would have to be TESTED before they could be resold/lent out.

And so, in that very limited sense, it is true. The problem - and the reason a lot of us are angy at Snopes - is that they are clearly trying to dismiss ALL the concerns about CPSIA by dismissing this one "rumor" on a technical point.

It would be as if they investigated one of those "parking lot rapist" email rumors - found out there really *was* someone attacking women in parking lots, but since they were only robbing women and not actually raping them, they dismiss the warning entirely as "untrue".

One BIG clue for me that something was weird about the Snopes response - notice how much space Snopes gives to explaining how BAD lead is and how DANGEROUS and how TERRIBLE - oooh LEAD - CHILDREN - LEAD - oooh! Huh? What does that have to do with whether the warning was true or not?

Anyway, Snopes clearly wanted to make *someone* happy by getting people to stop worrying about CPSIA.

Friday, February 20, 2009 at 8:05:00 AM PST  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

Great discussion guys. And I see the point. I've left a message at Snopes. Maybe someone from there will check in and comment?

Friday, February 20, 2009 at 8:51:00 AM PST  
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