Are books dangerous?

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.

About Joanne


  1. Uncle Sam is a moron?

  2. I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.

    By the way, this is a great way to destroy history–if you want to do so.

  3. Avid Bookreader says:

    Let’s see, local thrift stores throw old books (potentially with lead pigments into dumpster…dumpster is emptied into garbage truck…garbage truck dumps books at local incinerator…incinerator burns books releasing lead into the atmosphere. Once again we see government being penny wise and pound foolish.

  4. I can’t seem to decide if Orwell or Bradbury is more apt. In either case, I was an avid reader when I was small–though I seldom read children’s books–and this makes me both sad and outraged at the loss.

    “For the children” indeed. Some of those books had messages that our Dear Leaders would probably like to see vanish.

    I’m going to be scouring yard sales this year.

  5. This makes me sick to my stomach.

  6. Jared Stein says:

    Not sure why everyone is so roiled by this. Books are sooo 20th century, and all they ever served to do was perpetuate the bourgeoisie and placate the under class. If you don’t believe me, you must be one of those over-30 types suffering from lead poisoning, also evidenced by how “out of it” you all are. Reading? Critical inquiry? Independent thought? Give me 5-min clips on YouTube on my mobile phone or reality tv on my wall-mounted screens any day.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    Some good news is that I was at a library book sale the 14th and they were happily selling pre-1985 books. I strongly suspect that no DAs will find that prosecuting book sales is the way they want to spend their time. It is a political killer along with being a massive waste of resources (hmmmm … put car thief behind bars, or prosecute Goodwill for selling old books … hmmm, decisions, decisions …)

    -Mark Roulo

  8. The impact on books & dirt bikes represents only a small piece of the harm this legislation is doing. Many manufacturers will be devastated, especially small manufacturers and especially those with very diverse product lines. (Like one company with several thousand science kits–they are not allowed to simply test the common components, but must test each end product/SKU, which is prohibitively expensive)

    Congressmen say they want to protect “good manufacturing jobs”–they just trashed a whole bunch of them.

    I saw a comment from one congressman who voted *for* this legislation and blamed “government bureaucrats” for what is happening. This is simply vile. Most congressmen have law degrees and should know how to draft legislation properly and bring in expertise on the vast fields of knowledge (apparently including manufacturing and retailing) of which they were ignorant. It’s irresponsible to vote for a bill and then blame some GS-11 for doing his best to follow the intent of what it says.

  9. This is just yet another example of the “SOMETHING must be DONE” mentality that now permeates government.

    Toys imported from China, using paint from a manufacturer that cheaped out and apparently didn’t care about its paint containing toxic stuff. Kids get sick. SOMETHING must be DONE!

    So a law comes down the pike effectively banning all second hand sales of everything having to do with children, requiring even the lovingly-made, hardwood-with-beeswax-finish heirloom toys to be subjected to testing sufficiently expensive to put any small manufacturer out of business.

    Because a few factories violated laws that are probably already on the books. It’s kind of like the people who call for across-the-board gun bans when some felon illegally obtains a gun and kills someone.

    I fully expect the SOMETHING must be DONE situation to get far worse before it gets better. I just hope it doesn’t lead to things like food shortages or vaccine shortages…but I wouldn’t be surprised if some upcoming legislation did just that.

    They can take my 1960s-era set of the Chronicles of Narnia from me when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

  10. “Kids’ dirt bikes and ATVs also are banned under the law because of metal alloys used in the tire valves and batteries.”

    By that line of [I hate to call it] reasoning, kids should be prevented from riding in cars that use lead batteries.

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    Well, golly-gosh, what else can we do to stifle every single creative urge of any sort among kids?

    Let’s start with books: Yes, lead might be an issue. So might PCB — but only if a kid of any age spends a lot — and I mean, A LOT — like, most of his/her waking hours — chewing and swallowing pages out of books. Yes, chewing book pages is a national scourge…

    Well. This old mossback will continue to keep all of his childhood books about those politically incorrect American heros such as Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, Wild Bill Hickcock, Buffalo Bill, selected juvenile boys’ favorites of all kinds, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Robin Hood and Heaven knows how many others…

    And by God, I will read them to my grandsons (no granddaughters as yet, sadly) and let them have a helluva good time with their papa. And bugger the literary/”educational” establishment.

    As always, unregenerate.


  12. I agree.  SOMETHING MUST be DONE.

    I suggest that we begin by taking the persons who knowingly wrote these things into law and refused to reconsider even after the consequences were made known to them, and punish them appropriately.  Shooting them would be far too quick and painless; flaying alive, with liberal use of rock salt, would pehaps be approaching the level of agony required to properly impress on them the wrongness of their actions.

  13. I will not read you in a bus,
    I will not even make a fuss
    I can not read you here or there
    I can not read you anywhere
    ……b/c your too freakin old.
    oh well, I needed a new copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” anyway…for my iPod

  14. Bill Leonard says:

    “I agree. SOMETHING MUST be DONE.”

    I boxed and wrestled in college, and also played football in my youth. I vow to give it my late middle-aged best should any of these fools come within grasp or serious punching range.


  15. I am so disappointed to read this; however, it is not surprising. Just look at all of the old baby products that are no longer considered safe. People who saved all of their children’s things to pass along to their grandchildren have to turn them into decorations or throw them away. It is sad.

  16. Any congressman who gives the excuse, “I didn’t know what was in the legislation I voted for”, should begin by giving back his salary.


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