Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Potentially Toxic Children’s Books Stir Controversy

While a story in The Washington Post adds little new to the ongoing discussion about the lead content of pre-1985 children’s books, it offers a very good overview of where the matter stands now as well as how concerned parties are feeling.

In case you’ve missed the story thus far, here are the bare bones:
Legislation passed by Congress last August in response to fears of lead-tainted toys imported from China went into effect last month. Consumer groups and safety advocates have praised it for its far-reaching protections. But libraries and book resellers such as Goodwill are worried about one small part of the law: a ban on distributing children's books printed before 1985.
Boiled down: the legislation represents a disaster for book resellers and especially for libraries for whom it means replacing a significant portion of their children’s collections. At a time when budgets are already being slashed to ridiculous levels, the news just couldn’t be worse.

Part of the controversy, though, stems from the very core of the matter. Realistically, no one wants to poison kids and no amount of money saving is worth that. On the other hand, just how poisonous are the books in question? Is the risk significant enough to register. Some experts don’t think so:
“On the scale of concerns to have about lead, this is very clearly not a high priority,” said Ellen Silbergeld, a MacArthur scholar and professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University who is considered one of the leading experts on lead poisoning.

“It doesn't take a tremendous amount of intelligence to figure out what the highest-risk sources of lead are,” Silbergeld said. “This is a way of distracting attention from their failure to protect children from the clear and present dangers of lead. I think this is just absurd, and I think it's disingenuous.” She said that toys, poorly made jewelry and other trinkets were cause for much more alarm.
The Washington Post piece is lengthy and it’s here. January Magazine’s earlier coverage of this story is here.



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