Children’s books published before 1985 are dangerous, unless cleared by expensive tests, say federal consumer product regulators. Many used-book sellers and secondhand store owners are refusing pre-1985 books and clearing them off the shelves, writes Walter Olson of Overlawyered in City Journal. There are reports of older books being thrown away. It’s illegal to give “dangerous” books, not just to sell them.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 limits lead in products intended for use by children aged 12 or under; the limits are retroactive. The law went into effect on Feb. 10.
The law has hit thrift stores particularly hard, since many children’s products have long included lead-containing (if harmless) components: zippers, snaps, and clasps on garments and backpacks; skateboards, bicycles, and countless other products containing metal alloy; rhinestones and beads in decorations; and so forth. Combine this measure with a new ban (also retroactive) on playthings and child-care articles that contain plastic-softening chemicals known as phthalates, and suddenly tens of millions of commonly encountered children’s items have become unlawful to resell, presumably destined for landfills when their owners discard them. Penalties under the law are strict and can include $100,000 fines and prison time, regardless of whether any child is harmed.
Some pre-1985 books used lead pigments in illustrations, Olson writes. Tests can detect lead residues, but there’s no evidence that any child has been made ill by the lead in old book illustrations; book pigments don’t flake off the page. But booksellers are afraid of liability, writes Olson, quoting a commenter at Etsy, a vintage-goods site.
I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed! I managed to grab a 1967 edition of “The Outsiders” from the top of the box, but so many.
The American 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 “sequester” some undefinedly large fraction of pre-1985 books until more is known about their risks.
Of all the risks facing American children, old books must rank very, very low.
Kids’ dirt bikes and ATVs also are banned under the law because of metal alloys used in the tire valves and batteries. If this stuff is dangerous, it’s not because kids are licking the tire valves.