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Testing Children's Books for Lead

A federal law requiring all products for kids 12 and under to be tested for lead content has publishers of children's books on high alert, Publisher's Weekly reports. The law was enacted last August, and the first deadline for demonstrating conformity to new standards comes on February 10 -- even as many in the business wonder whether their products are affected and how to get them tested in time.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission didn't make clear until late November that the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, whose lead-and-kids provision is in part a response to the presence of lead in toys and other products imported from China, also applies to books aimed at kids.

Many large publishers already routinely have their products tested. Those that don't could soon be in a bind as they scramble to test all their books or face stiff fines. Retailers have pressed publishers to get the job done so they can sell books without legal worries. Libraries, schools and used-book sellers are all trying to figure out how the complicated new law might apply to the kids' books -- including textbooks -- they deal in.

Meanwhile, industry trade groups are pressuring the CPSC to clarify the new regulations and to consider exempting books from the act altogether.

(Disclosure: I have three children's picture books under contract with a major publisher; the first of them is due out this fall.)

As a parent, I appreciate any effort to protect kids from the potentially devastating effects of lead exposure. But also as a parent, I wonder whether testing all books for lead might be overkill (though I can certainly see testing those that are likely to be gnawed on by small children). And in this economy, anything that might up the price of books could put some publishers out of business. The last thing we need right now is to have fewer books available for our children to read.

Your thoughts?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  January 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Environmental Toxins , Family Health  
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Wow. I kept the copy of "Goodnight, Moon" that my twins ate through like hamsters. I never even thought about lead. But they are both now 12 and the thought of them eating through a book is absolutely ridiculous. Perhaps for toddler books - the board books we all get our babies, but why for all kids books under 12? What do they think 12yos are doing these days?

Posted by: Stormy1 | January 26, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Reading this made my heart drop. My son's early books (board books) look like they were attacked by a puppy. He gnawed and chewed so many corners. I hope they test the board books first!

Posted by: mdem929 | January 26, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Books do not pose a realistic threat with regard to lead! Just because they pass a law like this does not necessarily mean that you need to worry that your childrens' books have lead in them. There has not been any sort of known problem with books containing lead (with the possible exceptions of books that have attached toys, or perhaps those printed 50 years ago with red and yellow ink before those inks were outlawed). We have simply not had a rash of tainted books, or even one incident that I'm aware of. What has happened is that some imported TOYS contained lead in a form that could be absorbed by children. In a knee-jerk overreaction to the problem congress has enacted this law which covers "all consumer products" for children under 12, and thus has grossly overshot their goal. As a result, thousands upon thousands of small and medium sized U.S. businesses could be bankrupt by the end of next month. One analogy I read which seems pretty fitting is that Congress is burning the house down because somebody saw a cockroach. For a good summary, look for the Jan. 16 op-ed in Forbes by Walter Olson entitled "Scrap the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act." It is the best, most succinct and comprehensive criticism of the law I've seen. So the correction reaction to this should not be "Oh my! My childrens' board books could have lead in them!" They probably don't contain lead. The reaction should be "Oh my! Congress has needlessly enacted legislation that will worsen our slide into a worse economic recession, or perhaps depression!" Or "Oh my! My local public library might be forced to throw away all of their children's books and forbid children under 12 from entering the doors--and for no good reason!"

Posted by: Jared6 | January 26, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

You go, Jared6!!!

Posted by: byte1 | January 26, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

This new law for small book resellers is scary. Amazon has already sent out letters to even the smallest publishers requiring certification. The cost per book for testing I understand is $300 and goes into affect in February. There was inadequate warning on this and that it applied to books only became known in late November. What a nightmare! It sounds like used books sales will need to be banned to comply with this law. How is a seller on eBay of a used book going to know if it complies or not?

Posted by: ray11 | January 27, 2009 12:10 AM | Report abuse

The CPSC did not CLARIFY that the lead ban applies to books until November??? What the heck is there to CLARIFY. CONGRESS wrote a blanket ban on ALL lead in ALL children's products, period. They were told very specifically and repeatedly that there would be far reaching, unforseen and potentially devastating consequences for doing this but they wanted an election year issue and got it. The so-called "exclusion" provision in the law is so narrowly drafted as to make granting such nearly impossible. CONGRESS WROTE THIS LAW; ONLY CONGRESS CAN FIX THIS LAW. (Specifically Henry Waxman of California; Speaker Pelosi and Senator Mark Pryor). PLEASE stop shooting the dang messenger on this people!!!

Posted by: qdodd | January 27, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

The problem is not with testing new titles, though with the new requirements testing budgets will go up which will eventually raise prices, the issue is with stock in warehouses that need to be sold after Feb. 10, and were produced under the old safety requirements. If books were safe in 2008, I assume those same books should be able to be sold down. The regulations, like others, should be for books manufactured after the date the law was passed.

Frustrated Publisher

Posted by: rosanne_mcmanus | January 27, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

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