Friday, February 27, 2009

In America, books are bad for you

I blogged a while back on the unsuspected hazards that might lurk in books, and the seemingly draconian regulations posted in library books in days of yore to deal with them.

Alas, it seems that the poor souls who drafted those regulations missed a trick: they did not consider the possibility that children's books might be actively dangerous in themselves, not just because of the dreadful germs they might have encountered. In America, any children's book published before 1985 is now considered an active menace to children, and may not be sold. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is now in force, and has imposed very tight limits on the amount of lead any article bought for a child may contain. Books produced before 1985 may have had lead used in their printing inks, and hence the prohibition. Note the may there - some have lead, some haven't, so the law has helpfully produced a way round to stop you throwing away books you can actually sell. You pay for the book to be lead tested - and this is apparently not cheap.

There is an exemption for books which might be thought of as collectible, and so read by adults and not children, but all over America thrift stores and libraries are tarping off pre-1985 books, or throwing out the illicit child poisoners. If they don't, they risk a $100,000 dollar fine and maybe even imprisonment.

It seems absolutely mad, doesn't it? The nanny state gone completely stark, raving bonkers. The CPSIA was apparently sparked by the Chinese toy scandals: which I can entirely see - no one wants illegal lead in toys, but books? Surely you're more at risk from a vicious paper cut from a book than lead poisoning.

And if it's illegal to expose a child to lead in a pre-1985 book, I do wonder what this means for books people actually have in their houses now. Perhaps the children of bookdealers who work from home will be whisked off to safety until their homes can be de-contaminated.

So, here I sit, in what American legislators would probably consider a toxic fug, surrounded by piles of lethal literature. No wonder the dog's just insisted on going outside. Read more about the law here, here, and here.


Unknown said...

I read some where (sorry - I wish I remember where it was) that they have postponed this for a year. Hopefully they'll all come to their senses soon!

Eliza said...

The ALA announced last month that this is on hold pending investigation until February 2010. The sheer stupidity of it is if libraries don't comply with the law, kids under the age of 12 cannot enter the building (for fear that they might start chewing on board books, I guess). Thus they're pushing for exemption.

Jane Badger said...

I am completely staggered by all this, particularly with the situation on libraries. Surely it must have occurred to someone that this would happen? Did no one point out the likely outcomes before it actually became law?

Juxtabook said...

When you think of the things that they could do that would really improve child health - reducing car fumes in cities, slowing speeding traffic, making the blighters exercise more ... Why pick this crusade?

I don't know what the lead level potentially is in older children's books but I suspect that most kids over 3 don't regularly consume fiction in the literal sense. kids toys with small parts say age 3 and over becasue developmentally you can expect the child not to automatically put them in their mouths after 3. So for board books for babies there might be a good argument for this, but for other children's books? Crackers.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Sorry- they have not postponed it for a year. There is a stay on some things, but the CPSC very pointedly and specifically excluded pre 1985 childrens' books from the stay.

My library is pulling those books, as are some others. The library in Nebraska City, Nebraska has isolated them beneath an orange tarp.

I believe the stay has been used to render the public complacent about this new law, to distract us from the truly horrendous aspects of certain portions of it.
But the time to act is now- Congress needs to hold hearings and repeal and rewrite it or at lease issue technical ammendments.

Jane Badger said...

Headmistress - I am really sorry to hear about your library. That must be absolutely heartbreaking (though sadly the situation in my local libraries is such that no book dating back to 1985 is likely to have been allowed to stay. It would have been ruthlessly culled because readers would apparently only borrow the new and shiny). I know there are campaigns that presumably only US citizens can sign, but I don't know if there's anything similar open to non-US citizens. If you can point us in the right direction that would be great.

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