Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics
This content is made possible in part by the generous sponsorship support of The University of Minnesota.

Lead-testing law on hold, and librarians are relieved

Librarians nationwide heaved a sigh of relief Jan. 30 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a one-year stay of testing requirements in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), set to take effect Feb.

Librarians nationwide heaved a sigh of relief Jan. 30 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a one-year stay of testing requirements in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), set to take effect Feb. 10.

The law was originally conceived to protect children from toys containing unsafe levels of lead. While the intent was to stop the tide of toxic Thomas the Tank trains and plastic Dora the Explorer junk, the law, as written, enabled wealthy toy companies who mass-produce in China to test their products and pass the costs of the tests on to consumers. But small toymakers, clothing makers and book publishers who use safe, local materials and labor could be put out of business — along with the businesses that sell such items, or lend them out.

This Los Angeles Times story notes that even though manufacturers don’t have to test toys as rigorously yet, they still face penalties if they sell toys in excess of lead limits.

The law’s original wording exempted no item intended to be played with, worn or read by children, which meant that millions of library books would either have to be tested, destroyed or kept away from children.

Article continues after advertisement

“We have been very nervous about this issue, because obviously, the libraries cannot afford to test every book in our collection, or replace them,” said Chris Olson, executive director of the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA). “But the American Library Association said we shouldn’t panic; the amount of lead found in children’s books is well below the level of giving any concern, and we felt pretty sure books would eventually be exempted.”

In addition to books, most libraries have puppets, puzzles and other toys that would be affected by the law. The Owatonna Public Library’s children’s department has a rare toy-lending library of 258 items, in addition to the dollhouse, Legos and board games that children can use on-site.

“Certainly, I agree with the spirit of this law,” says Mary Kay Feltes of the Owatonna library. “But it could have such a huge impact on us and all libraries that it’s been very worrying. We’ve been talking and thinking about it every day.

“There are scores of items that children touch and use while in the library: plastic book covers, security cases for DVDs, audiovisual materials, painted wood chairs, laminate tabletops. Children’s safety is my first concern. Access to materials is second. The CPSIA is currently one of my top concerns, along with likely budget cuts.”

This Los Angeles Times story notes that even though manufacturers don’t have to test toys as rigorously yet, they still face penalties if they sell toys in excess of lead limits.