Sunday, February 22, 2009

Have we gone too far for safety?

Related to Libby's great post below, I'd just like to mention the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) again. Elaine also touched on this in an earlier post, and I mentioned it in my Kindling Words wrap-up as well.

Publishers, libraries, bookstores, and other industries who earn a living selling, producing, or supporting children's products have been scrambling to try to abide by the CPSIA which was to come into effect this February 10th. Thankfully, a stay of execution was granted for one year (read more info about that here). Of course, nothing has been resolved, still.

Alison Morris had a great post about this last week in Shelftalker, where she linked to this article by a lawyer decrying the NY Times editorial supporting the Act.
Clueless. Disgraceful. Grossly ill-informed. And cruelly hard-hearted toward families and businesses across the country that are facing economic ruin.
Jezebel also linked to this very sharp article in the Guardian. This is probably the most frightening part of the author's take on the Act:
Thus a great many books could very soon become inaccessible. Even when they survive on private shelves, it is technically illegal to pass them on for free. And on top of all that, the law is incoherent: what's to stop a child from being exposed to books for adults published prior to 1985? Why not ban them all? Though I probably shouldn't even say that. The idea of banning books as a health hazard would be all too popular with those politicians who are opposed to freedom of speech, but too mealy-mouthed to come out and say it.
Of course we want to ensure our children's safety, but at what cost? And is this really the right law? Want to know what you can do to help? Check out these sites here and here. (Thanks to Jenny for the links)


In happier news, I'm watching the Academy Awards right now. I love watching award shows, but I must say, I keep crying! From the touching clips, to Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's passionate acceptance speech, to Heath Ledger's win (and his family accepting the award on his behalf), it's been an emotional night!

It's one of the things on my "Things to do before I die" list to attend a black-tie awards event. I guess that, technically, I've already crossed this off my list, as I attended the National Book Awards last year, so I guess I'll have to upgrade to attending the Oscars. Now that's going to be a challenge, but hey, I can aim high, can't I? Maybe I can apply to be a seat warmer.


Christine Tripp said...

to try to abide by the CPSIA which was to come into effect this February 10th. Thankfully, a stay of execution was granted for one year

This is all so ridiculous! Lead in books, oh pleeeease! There is far more lead in the air these children breath. Most of it due to Industry, yet the governments continues to grant them, year after year, extensions to cleaning up their act. Hell, there are factories that have been dragging out rulings to clean up for over 30 years now!

ChatRabbit said...

"Have we gone too far for safety?"
Oh, hell yes.
As someone with feet in both the toy/product world and the book-producing world, I can say that it's a killer. The actual compliance is not the problem for well-run businesses. The certifications, the labeling, the halting of distribution while figuring these things out will just be nails in the coffin for a lot of companies/publishers that already have a tight profit margin. It's asinine.

Anonymous said...

This post inspired me to write my senators about this issue, which I've been meaning to do for a while. Thanks for the reminder.

Carol Baicker-McKee said...

Thanks for posting about this law. A couple of clarifications/updates:
1) the CPSC has ruled that "ordinary books" (i.e., not novelty or book+toy books) printed since 1985 are safe and don't have to be tested. For now. Their rulings are subject to change at any time. Also, state attorneys general can enforce the law in their own states as they see fit; they don't have to follow CPSC's guidelines.

2) Books published in 1984 (yes, quite a coincidence) and earlier may have contained lead in the inks used in illustrations or text. The CPSC suggests that booksellers and libraries "sequester," test, or discard all these older books. Many thrift stores are no longer accepting older books and some libraries have removed them. Many used booksellers have also stopped selling them. If you have old favorites, I suggest you start collecting copies quickly while lots of sellers are still clueless and/or defiant. It makes me unbelievably sad to think that many excellent titles will simply disappear over the next few months and years. The bigger problems will come as sellers are more aware of the law and people decluttering or breaking up estates won't be able to sell or give away their old kids' books and so will just toss them.

3) Yes, you cannot donate suspect books either. You can't give them to the kids next door. Really, you shouldn't even put them out at the curb, since technically they're considered hazardous waste.

4) Testing is prohibitively expensive, especially for older books or POD. Right now, you can test with a $40,000 XRF gun; next year, you'll need to send one of each "batch" of books -- i.e., for each print run of each edition (like hardcover vs. library binding vs. paperback) for "wet testing". Wet testing costs a minimum of several hundred dollars for each item, and it destroys the tested item in the process, making it "impractical" for used booksellers and libraries or print on demand.

5) Although there is an exclusion for vintage books of "sufficient age and value that they would not be given to a child," that category represents a very small portion of vintage books. (I know I mostly spend $5 or less on my vintage finds.) A seller cannot just label a book a "collectible" or ask if you're planning to use it yourself -- if it would appear to be something a child 12 and under would use, it's a "children's product" and subject to the law.

6) This law applies to ALL children's products, including the art on their walls. This could pose a problem for collectors of children's original book illustrations (obviously not going to be feasible to test any one of a kind items). So far original artwork has not received any explicit exemptions from CPSC. This also applies to items donated to charities -- and so would affect things like Robert's Snow. I find myself wondering about museums like Eric Carle's -- which clearly courts a child-clientele. Will they be forced to close their doors to kids who haven't reached their teens?

The children's book community is woefully unaware of this law and would be shocked at its reach. We need to keep working on getting the word out to them as well as urging our congressmen to support DeMint's bill and the corresponding House bill to reform CPSIA. Both bills are languishing in committee and no one is listening/acting -- not surprising since DeMint has been attacked ferociously for not caring about the safety of millions of children. The original bill was passed nearly unanimously.

Oh, there are NO documented cases ever of a child getting lead poisoning from a book. Book inks bond with paper -- a child would have to eat the book to ingest the lead, and he likely would have to eat a LOT of books to raise his blood lead levels enough to be considered poisoned. And don't forget, this law covers easy readers and middle grades not just the baby board books and picture books that are more likely to end up in someone's mouth.

Valerie Jacobson, a used bookseller, is doing a great job of covering this law on her blog, (sorry, I need to learn how to do a link in comments).

Sorry if I end up posting this twice -- my comment doesn't appear to have gone through and I'm trying again.

Christine Tripp said...

Carol, wow, just wow. Thanks, that is a lot of in depth info. This is just nuts. Lead is EVERYWHERE, why the hell do they pick on books!
It's in the ground our produce is grown from (hopefully not the organic soils) it's in the air we breath, most older homes have lead pipes for the main water supply coming in from the road. Why don't the powers that be take on these much more obvious problems?? Oh, because it would cost them scades of money and anger large industry.