Book Consumption (Literally)

"Give me the little book." And he said unto me, "Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter."

-- Revelation

Goaded into action by alarming stories of Chinese-made toys containing high levels of lead, Congress passed sweeping new regulations that went into effect yesterday. While toy stores remove questionable products from their shelves, publishers are struggling to figure out how the law applies to children's books. Fortunately, the Product Safety Commission has given publishers a stay of enforcement on testing and certification for one year, giving them more time to figure out these regulations (and stop them). Industry leaders argue that, without a permanent exemption, the law could be a disaster for their business, for schools, and even for public libraries. At issue is the law's requirement that products intended for children under 12 be tested by a third-party to ensure that lead levels are safe. That would be incredibly expensive and time-consuming. (What public library could test every book on its shelves?) Besides, there's no evidence that domestic or foreign publishers are using ink or paper that contains lead. (In November, the European Parliament specifically excluded kids books from their similar lead-level regulations.)

I've spent more than an hour trying to read the "clarifications" published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the Association of American Publishers, and it sounds to me as though there's a little wiggle room, but not much:

  • Publishers can issue a general conformity certification for their books if they know that their ink and paper are safe. That is, they don't have to test each title.
  • Retailers (and presumably libraries) can rely on publishers' general conformity certifications (rather than do their own testing).

Stay-tuned for more clarifications and, probably, exemptions soon.

-- Ron Charles

By Ron Charles |  February 11, 2009; 8:28 AM ET Children/YA , Ron Charles
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