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Fate of Book Ban in Hands of New CPSA Chair

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July 9 – 16, 2009 Edition Fate of Book Ban in Hands of New CPSA Chair
Inez Tenenbaum,
 newly-confirmed  
chair of the Consumer
Product Safety Commission.

NEW YORK, NY (AUTHORLINK NEWS, July 9, 2009)—A shocking law which technically bans the sale and distribution of children’s books printed prior to 1985 due to lead content, will be among the first issues tackled by Inez Tenenbaum, the new chairperson of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The American Library Association as well as many publishers have serious concerns over implementation of the new law and have written to the Commission pointing out numerous vagaries and restrictions in the document. Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act  in August 2008 and began enforcement in February this year. On the face of the law, it presumes to protect children against harmful lead content found in numerous toys, and also the inks of many books printed prior to 1985.

In Tenenbaum’s Senate confirmation hearing in June 2009, she said implementation of the Act will be her highest priority and emphasized the need for “common sense and cooperation” among the CPSC, Commerce Committee, consumer groups and children’s product  manufacturers and distributors. She also said it was too soon to take a position on whether the Act needs to be changed.

Some observers hope Tenebaum’s appointment will ease the many issues surrounding the Act and its implementation. The ALA has argued vehemently that the law should not apply to children’s books on library shelves.

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington office, said “We are looking forward to her (Tenebaum) joining the Commission.” The ALA sent a letter to Tenebaum June 30 asking her to make a statement soon on whether libraries should be excluded from CPSIA’s provisions. However, no one knows how Tenebaum will choose to apply the law to books.

The Act dictates that effective August 15, all children’s publishers and other children’s marketers must include information on each product about the source of that item (e.g., where and in what batch a book was printed). The CPSC has not yet issued guidelines on what form the tracking labels should take. New testing and labeling requirements are extremely vague, and the CPSC has not yet established its testing labs where they will require much of the testing to be done.

Earlier this year,  Emily Sheketoff said on the ALA site that “Libraries now have a little room to breathe, but this announcement (by the CPSC attempting clarification) is not an end to this problem. Since we know children’s books are safe, libraries are still asking to be exempt from regulation under this law. While the CPSC and Congress continue to toss the burden of responsibility back and forth, libraries are caught in the middle. ALA will continue to work with members of Congress and the CPSC to ensure that a year from now, this matter is resolved once and for all, and America’s libraries remain open and welcoming to children.”

One huge concern is that the law bans books printed before 1985 from use in libraries, and, in general, from being sold and distributed. Here, in part, is what the CPSC spells out as its enforcement policy (dated February 10, 2009):

“Starting on February 10, 2009, consumer products intended for children 12 and under cannot have more than 600 parts per million of lead in any accessible part. This new safety requirement is a key component of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) aimed at further reducing children’s exposure to lead.”

In contradictory statements within the document, the CPSC says  it will not (for the time being) “generally prosecute someone for making, selling or distributing items in these categories. . . “ But in the very next paragraph it says: “Sellers will not be immune from prosecution if CPSC’s Office of Compliance finds that someone had actual knowledge that one of these children’s products contained more than 600 ppm lead or continued to make, import, distribute or sell such a product after being put on notice. Agency staff will seek recalls of violative children’s products or other corrective actions, where appropriate.”

The policy says the DPSC will “expect companies to meet their reporting obligation under federal law and immediately tell the Commission if they learn of a children’s product that exceeds the new lead limits starting on February 10, 2009. Companies also should know that the CPSIA generally prohibits the export for sale of children’s products that exceed the new lead limits.”  In other words, companies must comply with testing and labeling that is, at this point, either vague or non-existent.

While Congress may not have intended to ban all children’s books printed prior to 1985, it has created legislation that technically does exactly that.

In response to the question, “What about the pre-1985 books?”, the ALA advises “Check printing, not copyright, for starters. A recently purchased copy may still carry the original copyright date, but will have been printed after 1985 and will be considered safe. If you feel you must remove books from circulation, please store them until rulings are clearer!

(Editor’s Note: Did the American public—and Congress itself–really know what was in this Act before passing it? Do we really want the government to have control over which books we can sell and distribute and those that we cannot?)