Friday, August 07, 2009

The CPSC exempts books, sort of

Yesterday the CPSC issued some new guidelines for resellers and exempted some items (90 page PDF, books start about page 26) from lead testing. The CPSIA gives the commission the power to exempt certain materials from testing if they determine something is lead free. They sort of did this by declaring certain natural products lead free back in February. These guidelines provide some good news to various product makers, particularly apparel and book makers. There will be more discussion about this over the next few days. Sarah of Organic Baby Farm and DHMrs both discuss how this ruling applies to books. Keep your eyes on the site What is the CPSIA for more.

The CPSC took a component approach to the lead testing exemptions. This means if the individual components do not contain lead then the entire unit does not contain lead. If the manufacturing process does not introduce lead, then the product does not contain lead. The CPSC examined the main components of books, paper, adhesives, thread, staples, inks, and printing processes. There are some big exceptions though. This means there is some good news and bad news for books. The CPSC also examines the arguments made by the ALA which had requested a blanket exemption for libraries.

The Good News

The CPSC found that paper, paper coatings, and most printing processes do not contain or introduce lead into a book. The guidelines specifically examined modern 4 color or CMYK printing. The inks used in this process do not use or introduce lead and most books are printed this way. However, spot ink processes might, so books that use spot ink processes will have to be tested. Adhesives might contain lead, but they have been ruled inaccessible because they are contained in the binding of the book (more on this below).

Most books printed after 1985 are exempted from expensive 3rd party testing because of this component analysis and approach.

The Bad News

Books printed before 1985 may have lead, which would have been used in the inks. Even though the lead, in most cases, would be below the limits, the CPSC cannot issue an exemption. There may be some books which are above the limits and the only way to know is to test them.

Books with staples, spiral bindings, stickers, attached and or painted components are not exempt. Spiral bindings have been involved in recalls because of lead, so not really a surprise. Novelty books fall into this category and they are not exempt.

The American Library Association

The ALA tried to get a blanket exemption for libraries, which the CPSC did not grant. The ALA did a really poor job in their arguments for an exemption. They tried to says books from libraries are not distributed as products in interstate commerce. The ALA went as far as to say children's books are not products at all. The ALA seemed to forget that libraries sell books for fundraisers. There is also a little program called interlibrary loaning in which libraries send books, sometimes across state lines, to other libraries. In any event, the CPSC determined that libraries do distribute books in commerce regardless if any money is exchanged. This is rather humorous because the ALA originally supported passage of the CPSIA. The ALA then had the arrogance to assume that their lobbyist pals and Washington insiders would be able to protect them and their member libraries. They went so far as to tell libraries/librarians to sit tight, that they were taking care of this and libraries would be protected. Instead of marshalling the strength of their membership like they did to protect patrons from the Patriot Act, they rolled over like a lap dog and let libraries fall victim to the extremes of the law.

What this means for libraries

The CPSC told the ALA to expect further guidance on how to deal with books that already exist on library shelves. So while books printed before 1985 are still subject to the testing requirement, there is still some hope for some relief. Though it is hard to know when or in what form this relief will come. The deadline for the third party testing to begin is February 2010.

As I have blogged before, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know when a book was printed. This information was never considered relevant. Books include a copyright date, which does not equate to a printing date. This still subjects libraries to pulling books which are perfectly safe simply because the copyright date is pre-1985. Like most libraries, this will devastate my local library.

I don't think the CPSC realizes the number of children's books on library shelves that contain staples. I don't think anyone really knows. Books bound with staples are bound in two ways. The first way is rather obvious - the staples go through the center of the book like a pamphlet. It is a simple, cheap way to bind a book. There are many, many books produced this way. Books are also bound with staples through the back edge of the book and are contained within the binding of the book. Sometimes, there is no way to know those staples are there unless one takes a book a part.

Novelty books are equally difficult. There are all kinds of novelty books. "Touch and feel" books have fabrics or laminated components. Some books have parts that come apart. Some novelty books have vinyl, which is known to contain lead. I expect novelty books will disappear from the marketplace. Stapled and spiral bound books are certainly going to disappear from the market place too. Older books have already started to disappear from places like Amazon. The costs for testing and other regulatory requirements make it to expensive to make these books available at an affordable price.

I expect regular children's books to go up in price as well. Book publishers may not be technically required to test regular books, but there is the whole liability problem. The CPSC is going to watch the market place. This means they will purchase product, test it, and if it fails any part of the CPSIA, you can expect heavy, heavy fines and possible jail time. So even though they are exempting books, I still expect some form of randomized testing to occur during manufacturing. We can only assume State Attorney Generals will go along with these guidelines. But who truly knows? In any event, the price of children's books will go up.

The lead testing exemption stands so long as the adhesive remains inaccessible. Fine for new books, but used books pose a problem. The normal use and abuse of a library book may subject a book to testing requirements if the book falls apart. Now you may assume that libraries throw books away when they fall apart. Libraries do throw away children's books beyond repair. But we do try to extend the life of a book as much as possible. We have numerous books on the shelf that have some of the bindings exposed because we just haven't had time to repair them. Their circulation stats don't justify immediate attention. There are just too many. We tape or glue books back together and hope we can get a few more circulations out of it. Some books are worth repairing and saving because no equivalent replacement can be found. This is true of our older collection. Older books used animal based adhesives and they seem to be exempted. More recent books used other adhesives which may contain lead. In any event, this is a grey area that libraries will have to deal with.

A few words of warning

It is hard to know if these exemptions will stand. There is a certain complexity that makes it difficult on many levels. Throw into the mix consumer lobbyist groups which successfully sued for the pthalate ban to be applied retroactively. They used the strictness of the wording of the law as justification and a judge agreed with them. The CPSC claims that the law gives them power to exempt certain classes of materials which are inherently lead free. But they themselves say that more testing needs to be done in the market place for absolute proof. The wording of the law doesn't allow component testing and yet the CPSC takes a component level approach to the exemptions. It is a more common sense way to look at products, but is it truly supported by the CPSIA? I don't know. There is the attorney general aspect in which they can do what they want.

This ruling only applies to lead testing. There are still other testing requirements, tracking labels, and more regulations to come.

For now, we can deal with the exemptions they have given us. I don't think we can relax though. The law truly needs to be repealed or severely amended to allow risk based rulings. We can't give up on this yet. Stay tuned.

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