Feds target kids’ books as unsafe

Libraries and bookstores could be forced to take kids’ books off the shelves unless the Consumer Product Safety Commission delays enforcement of a law designed to protect children from toys, clothing or other products tainted with dangerous chemicals.  The law takes effect Feb. 10, reports the San Jose Mercury News:

Without a reprieve, San Jose library officials say they could be forced to close their children’s sections and send off all 700,000 volumes in them for safety testing.

Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in August to protect kids from exposure to lead and plastic. The law followed the discovery of lead paint in imported toy trains and mounting health concerns about baby bottles and toys containing phthalates, used to make some plastics more flexible.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the law covers all books aimed at children under 12, including books already in libraries. All must be tested for lead and phthalate or taken off the shelves.

Many children’s books, like the Dorothy Kunhardt touch-and-feel classic “Pat the Bunny,” have pages with plastic, cloth or other material to excite young minds.

And a toddler might chew on a book for a few minutes, picking up the germs of the toddlers who’ve chewed on it before.  What are the odds of a kid getting seriously sick from Pat the Bunny? A gazillion to one, I’d guess. What are the odds that libraries will use money set aside for buying new books to pay for  useless testing?

Children’s clothing will be more expensive to cover the costs of testing the same materials again and again; retailers and resellers say they’ll stop selling children’s clothing to avoid liability.

Just repeal the law, advises Walter Olson on Forbes.

(Thrift stores and other used-clothing sellers) while not obliged to test, face liability if they inadvertently sell a vintage item with any component (the axle on a skateboard, the zipper on a size 10 jacket, the rhinestone on a doll’s tiara) that flunks the tough new standards.

Since a broad-based testing regime will normally be incompatible with the economics of a thrift store, that will leave store managers with the unpleasant choice of : 1) ceasing to sell children’s goods; or 2) predictably being in noncompliance on a lot of old items (without knowing which ones) and hoping no one ever decides to enforce the law against them.

Legislators who sponsored the bill belatedly asked the CPSC to exempt children’s clothing with no metal or plastic fasteners and children’s books “that have no painted, plastic or metal components.”  Use a staple, go to jail. It’s not clear the commission has the power to comply.

Good intentions, bad law, writes Health News Digest.

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  1. Jeez Louise! At some point, one would hope that common sense would kick in. What’s next?

  2. This is a case of “Something must be done!” and that Something turns out to have really bad unintended consequences.

    The targets were imported toys that were (probably in violation of some existing law) tainted with lead, using magnets small enough to swallow, or with other violations.

    The unintended targets now are libraries, booksellers, thrift stores (they are not required to test items BUT are liable if something hazardous turns up – lots of thrift stores are just going to stop accepting children’s gear), small artisan toymakers (who were already very careful about safety – but with a few exceptions, they will have to submit to prohibitively expensive testing), and possibly even charity groups like Project Linus. (Project Linus – for whom I have made quilts – claim that they don’t expect to see large problems. But I’m not donating any more until I’m sure it’s cleared up; I’d hate to think of all that work going to a landfill just because of some stupid piece of legislation).

    Consumers will be hurt in that it will be harder to find secondhand sources of children’s clothing (and possibly to sell/donate unused), there will be fewer choices if the small toymakers decide to close up shop, and libraries may have to restrict their offerings to children (some have even contemplated banning children altogether).

    So, to solve the problem of some companies violating the public’s trust, ALL companies catering to children are now presumed to be in violation unless proven otherwise.

    It reminds me a bit of people who clamor for new, stricter gun laws, when enforcing the ones already on the books would solve most problems.

  3. This is a major problem for manufacturers, especially those with a very broad product line but with fairly small sales of each individual product within the line. From the manufacturing blog Evolving Excellence:

    “Problem #2: testing must be done at the product level, not the component level. So a common component used in multiple types of products must be tested multiple times. What does this mean? Each SKU must be tested separately, even if they are virtually identical. One pair of jeans and a slightly different pair of jeans, both using the exact same raw denim, must be tested separately. See the video below, where a manufacturer of science kits has 40,000 SKU’s… and is looking at a $20 million dollar cost for initial certification testing. This is why many products, and companies, will simply cease to be sold.”

    I wonder how many Congressmen even know what a SKU is? Most of them are lawyers by trade, and are pretty detached from the world of people who make and sell things.

    See posts here and here.

  4. What’s the big deal?

    Don’t remove anything from the shelves.

    Just buy every kid in America a radiation safety suit complete with helmet and a self-contained breathing unit. Then have them all hide under their beds until they’re twenty-five.

  5. Silly, just fund it from the stimulus package! Ecofriendly makework at its best!

  6. Oh yeah…that’s what we need. Let’s take BOOKS out of the hands of children. Let’s close libraries – the kids might accidentally learn something. What a bunch of morons we have in Congress. We need term limits worse than we need more silly government intervention. I’m thinking a limit of ONE term would be good. 😉

  7. I had my son in October. I’m going to start stocking up on books and toys now. All I can say is thank God my mom kept my old books.

    Oh, by the way, I linked to and commented on this post over on my blog.

  8. This is a crazy law–even more so than you’d think from this post–but it should not affect libraries. It applies to SELLING products for children. It shouldn’t apply to products that were already in library collections, unless they’re conducting used book sales. Of course, it will almost certainly make children’s books more expensive, but that’s another problem.

  9. Entirely possible that some libraries are overreacting, as Virginia suggests. (Certain corporations, for example, have tied themselves into knots over Sarbanes-Oxley to evan a greater degree than that required by the law)…but if the operative term in the law is “selling,” then it would probably apply to children’s books sold by bookstores and on-line.

    But there appears to be no question that this law will be extemely harmful to many manufacturers, at the same time that Congresspeople blather on about how they want to protect “good manufacturing jobs.”

    If Congress is unable to deal with such a relatively simple issue in a responsible fashion, why would we think that their ever-deeper intervention into all aspects of the economy would be likely to have a good outcome?

  10. Lots of coverage of this issue here.

  11. The wording of the law is “consumption or warehousing or distributed in commerce”. I would presume that a library constitutes “warehousing”.

    See the law here: http://cpsc.gov/cpsia.pdf

    Read it and weep for our country.

  12. Just wait until someone decides SOMETHING MUST BE DONE to make food even safer than it is.

    I think I’m gonna learn how to trap and dress rabbits, just so I won’t be one of the ones who starves.


  1. […] Among the bloggers who’ve done excellent posts on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, but who don’t primarily blog on this or nearby topics, are BeliefNet’s Rod Dreher (who was onto the thrift store angle very early), John Schwenkler of Upturned Earth, Mark Thompson @ Publius Endures, economist Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, Advice Goddess columnist Amy Alkon, Iain Murray at CEI “Open Market”, Jeff Nolan at Venture Chronicles, Patrick @ Popehat, Eve Tushnet (scroll a lot to Jan. 15), and leading education blogger Joanne Jacobs. […]

  2. […] Library Association argues libraries can distribute pre-1985 books without expensive testing. But libraries may have to comply too. One CPSC commissioner, Thomas Moore, has already called for libraries to […]