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Should Children's Books Be Tested for Excess Lead?


Question: Should Children's Books Be Tested for Excess Lead?
There's has been a lot of controversy about the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and some of its provisions. One of these significantly impacts libraries and children's books. What's the problem? Do children's books - some or all - represent a health danger because of excess lead?
Answer: The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was signed into law (P.L. 110-314) on August 14, 2008 by President George W. Bush and went into effect on February 10, 2009. The Act was in response to concerns about the many children’s toys, particularly those imported from China, that contained an excess of lead and other hazardous materials. The CPSIA requires that toys and other products that are made for children under the age of12 be tested for safety. Due to all of the general uncertainty about what is covered and the cost of complying, on January 30, 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced, "The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously (2-0) to issue a one year stay of enforcement for certain testing and certification requirements for manufacturers and importers of regulated products, including products intended for children 12 years old and younger."

Under the CPSIA, products that require testing for lead and phthalates by independent labs include children’s books. However, there is a question as to whether an excess of lead content is a valid issue in the case of children’s books. Lead banned in printer’s ink in 1978, and the amount of lead in books published prior to that date is in question.

The American Library Association (ALA) has protested, and the Consumer Product Safety Division is reviewing the inclusion of children’s books under the Act. On March 19, 2009, Publishers Weekly reported, “Shortly before February 10, the CPSC issued a statement that while both new and old books had to comply with the law’s limits on lead and phthalates, it would not enforce the law for ordinary books printed after 1985—with the caveat that states’ Attorneys General also have the power to enforce.” A March 24, 2009 article on the CPSIA, libraries and children’s books in the Washington Post sheds further light on this confusing situation.

It may be that Congress will act on the matter of children's books soon. On March 26, 2009, Publishers Weekly reported, “U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) introduced legislation on Tuesday to exclude so-called 'ordinary' books from the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.” The Act would still apply to novelty books and other children's books that include toy, jewelry and other add-ons.

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