This story seems to be getting a bit of attention. In a perfect example of the crisis-driven shortsightedness typical of democratically elected politicians, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passed overwhelmingly last August and takes effect in February. There’s no one I trust more to protect my consumer safety than a bunch of politicians in DC, and I for one am glad they have my back. Well, not my back, but my children’s backs, except my children don’t have backs, or rather my backs have no children. Anyway, you get the idea.
From the article: "On February 10, the new law gets teeth. After that day, all products for children under 12 — books, games, toys, sports equipment, furniture, clothes, DVDs, and just about every other conceivable children’s gadget and gewgaw — must be tested for lead, and fall below a new 600 part-per-million limit, or face the landfill. Thanks to a September 12 memo from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the lead limit applies not only to new products, but also to inventory already on store shelves."
It seems that consumer products for children are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
Publishers, the ALA, and other folk concerned with books are worried, because the typically incautious, overly simplistic law technically means that even children’s books will all have to be tested for lead to make sure they’re safe enough for children’s consumption. Not being a metallurgist, I wasn’t aware that books had any lead content, but I really couldn’t say. If they do, maybe that’s what people mean by "heavy reading."
"The CPSIA, intended to keep lead out of toys, may well also keep books out of libraries, says Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association. ‘We are very busy trying to come up with a way to make it not apply to libraries,’ saidSheketoff. But unless she succeeds in lobbying Capitol Hill for an exemption, she believes libraries have two choices under the CPSIA: ‘Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,”’she says, “or they ban children from the library.’"
What a choice! If it were me, I’d go with the latter option: banning children from the library. Think about it. Children are noisy, dirty, and smelly. They make messes, and they don’t even pay taxes. Why not ban them from libraries? Then all the adults who like to read kiddie books but haven’t already become children’s librarians can have free run of the stacks. The other choice would be fine with me, too, though. I never go into that section of the library, and all those thin books look hard to shelve accurately anyway.
If this choice is really what we face unless the ALA succeeds in lobbying Congress for an exemption, then I have a feeling one or the other is going to happen, because I can’t think of any issues that the ALA has ever successfully lobbied for. They lobbied against CIPA and DOPA, after all. Midwinter’s coming up, so maybe the ALA Council could pass a resolution. That would bring quick and effective action, just like the resolutions against the confirmation of Justice Alito and the Patriot Act! And we all remember how the genocide in Darfur came to an abrupt halt after the ALA Council resolution against that.
The ALA is always so hysterical, though. They give us these two options merely to get us all in a tizzy, when they know these aren’t the only two options. Probably they just don’t care if our youngsters die of lead poisoning in libraries. That’s why they’re bamboozling us with all this pettifoggery, if that’s what one does with pettifoggery.
There is another option, of course. Libraries could just test books for lead. I don’t know why this hasn’t occurred to anyone. To be fair, it has occurred to some publishers, but they mistakenly tested for soluble lead content instead of total lead content, which didn’t satisfy the two people at the CPSC. So libraries would definitely need to test for total lead content. It’s really not that difficult, as this fact sheet from someone or other attests. (I’m pretty sure this fact sheet is reliable, because it came up near the top in my Google search.)
There’s a cheap test for lead that just involves dipping an applicator into some sort of gunk and spreading it on the book. The only problem is that the test isn’t reliable, plus you have to wash the affected item thoroughly after the test. Thus, we’ll be forced to admit, this test isn’t at all practicable for libraries. It’d be a shame to save a book because it had no lead only to discard it because it was water-damaged.
But there are reliable tests for total lead content that merely require removing part of the object for a sample and shipping it to a laboratory for analysis. That’s not so big a deal. Libraries can just snip a page from each book, keep careful track of which pages go to which books, ship the pages off to the laboratories for analysis, and pay somewhere "between $5 – $35 per sample for this type of analysis." Given that range of choice, if I were the librarian in charge of the project, I’d choose the low end, but that’s just me. I have no idea about the typical collection size for a typical children’s library, but let’s say 10,000 books just for fun. At the low end, we’re talking a mere $50,000 to test the books for lead in each library, and the worst case scenario would require just $350,000 to test such a collection. Is this too much to pay to ensure the safety of our children?
It’s just possible that the ALA will finally succeed in lobbying Congress, but just in case their track record stays the same, libraries should start saving their pennies and finding the cheapest labs they can. It might seem onerous and unnecessary, but no amount of government-inspired busywork and expense is too much when we consider that this is for the safety of our children. They’re worth it. The children, after all, are our future, just like the last generation of children are our present. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.