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Book Burning: For Your Health!
March 15, 2009 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Book Burning: For Your Health! "...under a law Congress passed last year aimed at regulating hazards in children’s products, the federal government has now advised that children’s books published before 1985 should not be considered safe and may in many cases be unlawful to sell or distribute." (via Neil Gaiman's twitter stream)
posted by Lentrohamsanin (40 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Snopes on the same subject.
posted by TedW at 9:05 AM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I had considered starting a non-profit chemical testing service just for things of this nature. The same law will make it illegal for a grandmother to knit something for her grandchild for a gift without extensive chemical testing of the finished product. The way the law is written, this is true even if the yarn has been certified. Or so I understand it.

But the notion that books printed before 1985 not being safe -- only a complete moron could maintain that with a straight face. And this is the law they passed while the banking system was falling apart around them and they couldn't be bothered. While we're spending a billion dollars an hour in the Middle East on false pretenses and empty face-saving. While ... AHHGHGGH. I mean, the stupid -- it burns!
posted by Michael Roberts at 9:05 AM on March 15, 2009


I was just reading a bit about this. When the law was first proposed I thought, surely the lawmakers will realize that reselling things is popular in America and add in provisions, and grandfather clauses etc. Nope. I never bothered to write a letter to anyone about it, but I wish I had.

I think we can all agree though, that most things from the eighties are dangerous, a public health hazard and should be banned.
posted by Science! at 9:08 AM on March 15, 2009


They mean printed before 1985, not published before 1985. This isn't quite as ridiculous as it seemed at first, although it still is pretty impressively ridiculous.
posted by obvious at 9:09 AM on March 15, 2009


The Snopes article is not bad -- but notice that they point to the CPSIA's statement of forebearance as evidence that the law is not overly broad.

Does any parent really think that their children are in danger from handling paper? Because that's how the law is written: any product intended for use by people under twelve must be tested, whether it's clothing, books, software, or a stick you picked up in the woods and whittled into a doll.
posted by Michael Roberts at 9:10 AM on March 15, 2009


That Snopes posting is odd, because it starts by stating "FALSE" but at the end essentially agrees that it's true.

GoodWill Industries is taking the law seriously and has been pulling used children's clothing out of their stores.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:10 AM on March 15, 2009


Can't we all agree that children shouldn't eat books, lead-laced or not?
posted by grabbingsand at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Snopes on the same subject.

That Snopes article has been roundly criticized as inaccurate, FWIW.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:12 AM on March 15, 2009


Even after reading the Snopes piece, I can still understand why one of my fave thrift stores just totally did away with almost its entire children's section - books, toys, clothes and all. Seriously, this law is badly written and poorly thought out:

A further question is what to do about public libraries, which daily expose children under 12 to pre-1985 editions of Anne of Green Gables, Beatrix Potter, Baden-Powell’s scouting guides, and other deadly hazards. The blogger Design Loft carefully examines some of the costs of CPSIA-proofing pre-1985 library holdings; they are, not surprisingly, utterly prohibitive. The American Library Association spent months warning about the law’s implications, but its concerns fell on deaf ears in Congress (which, in this week’s stimulus bill, refused to consider an amendment by Republican senator Jim DeMint to reform CPSIA). The ALA now apparently intends to take the position that the law does not apply to libraries unless it hears otherwise. One can hardly blame it for this stance, but it’s far from clear that it will prevail.

Throwing out huge numbers of books because of a misunderstanding of a confusing law is just horrible, but there's been almost no clarity on this coming from the government. And that part about overzealous state prosecutors - FOR THE CHILDREN! - seems like a very realistic concern.
posted by mediareport at 9:20 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of how the library in my hometown got rid of all the cool old childrens' and young adult books (Swallows and Amazons?) some of them being out of print. We went in to ask what happened to them, and the librarian said "well, you wouldn't want your kids being around some musty old books, would you?"

For an generally intelligent profession, some librarians can be real idiots.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:23 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rep. John Dingell has sent a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking specific questions about used books and clothing on the second-hand market - see especially questions 5 and 9.

Snopes really seems to have dropped the ball on this one.
posted by mediareport at 9:31 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a child, I had a pica for paper. I ate a lot of it. Maybe that is part of why I am so weird now.

We used a poison in the past to make things for children. Now those things have gained sentimental and historical value. That doesn't mean that there is any less poison in them.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Small motorcycle sales have also been hit hard by the lead regulations.
posted by buggzzee23 at 9:34 AM on March 15, 2009


Here's the American Library Association page on this issue, and a link to the Overlawyered blog on this topic.
posted by gudrun at 9:42 AM on March 15, 2009


The American Library Association CPSIA page. They met in January with officials and said then "we are hopeful that the Commission’s decision will exempt libraries," but I can't find further news of the decision they were told to expect in early February.
posted by mediareport at 9:43 AM on March 15, 2009


I find it strange that the government can retroactively ban these things for being potentially marginally unsafe, yet cigarettes are still widely available.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:51 AM on March 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Won't someone please think of the children? It just goes to show you can't be too careful!
posted by Nelson at 9:53 AM on March 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


WTF you Congress?
posted by nola at 9:58 AM on March 15, 2009


I find it strange that the government can retroactively ban these things for being potentially marginally unsafe, yet cigarettes are still widely available.

Cigarettes: Source of revenue.
posted by notreally at 10:34 AM on March 15, 2009


All of these issues point to one thing: children should be locked in sealed containers until "the quickening." When that is will be decided by the states.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:37 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to think that the career civil servants responsible for implementing and managing the regulations that implement these laws would have good judgment and sense of proportion about this.

My experience tells me exactly the opposite. While some municipalities will be safe from the excesses of the law, there are places that are ruled by Teh Stupid, or places that are subject to a perverted and draconian view of The Broken Windows theory. Or, simply, career civil servants are subject to the ridiculous petty politics that pervade many workplaces, and are will be afraid to use "judgment" or a "sense of proportion", because they will be punished by by a petty and vindictive local electorate.
posted by Xoebe at 11:58 AM on March 15, 2009


Wow. This is one of the truly saddest things I've ever read. Holy hell.

In this economy, won't someone think of the CHILDREN? That is, the children whose parents can't afford to buy them NEW clothes or books, but instead visit the Goodwill to buy these things and trust that whatever lead content exists in the zippers, it's still better than not having a coat?!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:21 PM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


This seems to be a stunning example of the world gone awry.
posted by ND¢ at 1:02 PM on March 15, 2009


The same kind of evil nonsense is coming for food:

http://www.popehat.com/2009/03/09/you-are-why-i-cannot-eat-good-things/

And animals:

http://overlawyered.com/2009/03/national-animal-identification-system/

The results of these laws will be precisely the opposite of safety. It sounds like a joke to say that when family farming or toymaking is outlawed, only outlaws will have family farms or make toys, but when you think it through you realize that is exactly what the outcome is going to be. Recent immigrants who don't trust the government and/or have the English skills to understand the law, and people who don't care about the law will continue to have chickens and goats and grow vegetables and import little children's widgets, and engage in economic activity with these things, while the law-abiding and/or English-speaking people who understand and can navigate bureaucracy will have stopped bothering. So let's say that there is a terrible outbreak of a disease that you can catch from your neighbors' chickens, or a nasty toxin in the paint used on your widget. If laws like this go into effect, all the people who are capable of giving a shit aren't keeping chickens or importing toys anymore. The people who have chickens or are selling children's toys are either innocently ignorant of health and safety regulations or are nasty people who don't care about safety.

We now live in an America where you are a *felon* if you sell a baby sweater you knitted last year. What does that do to people's respect for the law?

It's not like we don't have drug prohibition to use as a model here. Gosh, that was just a massive unprecedented success, creating generations of young people who really felt like the government cared about them and their needs, wasn't it?
posted by daisydaisy at 1:19 PM on March 15, 2009


This, from daisydaisy's food link, has me worried, too:
The Food Safety Modernization Act, as currently drafted, will ruin most of the farmer’s markets in America.

Without going into a detailed textual analysis (click the link above), the FSMA requires all “food establishments,” which means anyone selling or storing food of any type for transmission to third parties via the act of commerce, to register with a new Food Safety Administration, to keep copious records of sales and shipment by lot and label, to subject themselves to at least annual inspections by FSA inspectors, and to provide detailed handling instructions for safe processing of food. That may work for Nabisco and the people who supply McDonald’s, but it’s probably not going to work at, for instance, the farmer’s market I visit without fail every weekend beginning in late March. The place is infested with hippies and rustic sorts who couldn’t fill out a spreadsheet and can’t afford legal advice on how to farm, but know a thing or two about growing good peppers.
posted by aniola at 4:41 PM on March 15, 2009


That Snopes posting is odd, because it starts by stating "FALSE" but at the end essentially agrees that it's true.

Snopes isn't the be-all-end-all ultra-accurate impartial reference that people sometimes make it out to be. They get a lot of stuff wrong. Snopes is useful as something to point your grandmother to in order to debunk her latest mass email forward about how the libruls are trying to ban Jesus and other similar debunking of shit that any idiot can see is false, and as a database of interesting folklore, and not really much else. The Mikkelsons have their own biases like anyone else (the site has pretty consistently demonstrated a right-wing/libertarian bias on a lot of subjects) and are often guilty of sloppy research.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:31 PM on March 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The place is infested with hippies and rustic sorts who couldn’t fill out a spreadsheet

You'd be surprised at the technological acuity of these folks. That aside, the real question is: "Can they afford to hire the extra clerk(s) to deal with the additional regulatory burden?"

And the answer is most certainly, no. Whereas Nabisco *already has* regulatory compliance staff on payroll.
posted by mikelieman at 5:48 PM on March 15, 2009


And the answer is most certainly, no. Whereas Nabisco *already has* regulatory compliance staff on payroll.

But it's a mistake to think that big business is behind these laws and bills. It isn't big business; it's consumer protection groups:

http://heartkeepercommonroom.blogspot.com/2009/02/who-lobbied-for-cpsia.html
posted by daisydaisy at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2009


Good. Fucking. Grief. If this is true, then my only question is this: Is this what we have come to? Where will this shit end?

Christ, pretty soon we will be required to wear fire-resistant, airbag deploying suits while driving in our cars. That is just an example of the overprotected society that we have become.

My apologies for all the profanity, but this is just ridiculous.
posted by mnb64 at 6:05 PM on March 15, 2009


We now live in an America where you are a *felon* if you sell a baby sweater you knitted last year. What does that do to people's respect for the law?

Are you entirely sure that violation of this law is a felony and not, say, a code violation?
posted by aaronetc at 6:13 PM on March 15, 2009


Last I heard (meeting at the library where I work, mid-February), the ALA had secured a one year exemption from the law while they try to get the full exemption they are after. I know our very well-stocked children's library would be decimated if they decide this well-intentioned but poorly-written law applies to libraries. I can't imagine what it would do in libraries with smaller purchasing budgets, especially in this economic climate.

I wrote to my senators and representative just before the bill was to begin being enforced, and the one response I got back was pretty unconcerned about the economic ramifications. I hope they take the time to fix this soon. I, however, will continue to be an outlaw, making handmade gifts for children and buying them used books.
posted by amarie at 7:10 PM on March 15, 2009


Criminal liability for selling baby sweaters is now a grim statutory reality:

http://bennettandbennett.com/blog/2009/01/criminal-liability-under-the-cpsia.html

The only question is how strictly the CPSIA will be enforced.
posted by daisydaisy at 7:19 PM on March 15, 2009


Christ, the stupid shit done in answer to the idiot's call of "won't you think of the children!"
posted by maxwelton at 7:47 PM on March 15, 2009


Small motorcycle sales have also been hit hard by the lead regulations.

Companies make tiny motorcycles and ATVs which are intended for children under 12 yet can easily do 30 mph down a dirt trail and will flip over if they turn too fast...and we ban them because they contain lead?
posted by miyabo at 8:02 PM on March 15, 2009


Yeah, the CPSIA is a bullshit, bullshit piece of legislation. That said, things are not as dire as they were when it was passed. (I'm supposed to be writing my final paper for my government publications class on this very piece of legislation but instead I will post here. Tralala.)

On January 30, the CPSC passed a one-year stay of enforcement. (Federal Register link.) So, products produced before roughly January 2009 are not required to adhere to the new testing and certification requirements, but are still required to adhere to the old permissible levels and certification requirements, if applicable. I'm honestly kind of confused by some of the frantic pitching of things, given that the law has explicitly had enforcement put on hold for a year, but if someone knows more than I and wants to weigh in, I'm very curious.

Additional relevant info from the stay of enforcement:
The stay of enforcement provides some temporary, limited relief to the crafters, children’s garment manufacturers and toy makers who had been subject to the testing and certification required under the CPSIA. These businesses will not need to issue certificates based on testing of their products until additional decisions are issued by the Commission. However, all businesses, including, but not limited to, handmade toy and apparel makers, crafters and home-based small businesses, must still be sure that their products conform to all safety standards and similar requirements, including the lead and phthalates provisions of the CPSIA.

Handmade garment makers are cautioned to know whether the zippers, buttons and other fasteners they are using contain lead. Likewise, handmade toy manufacturers need to know whether their products, if using plastic or soft flexible vinyl, contain phthalates.

The stay of enforcement on testing and certification does not address thrift and second hand stores and small retailers because they are not required to test and certify products under the CPSIA. The products they sell, including those in inventory on February 10, 2009, must not contain more than 600 ppm lead in any accessible part. (emphasis mine-600ppm for lead was the old limit)


So, basically, if you're sure that your cloth and zippers conform to the new standards, you can carry on making your whatevers without any additional certification or testing requirements until this law is further clarified.

Talking of clarified, there are four amendments currently making their torturous way through government: a proposed exemption for electronic devices (which contain lead in their circuitry, which can't easily be substituted with another metal without compromising their function); the proposed creation of a commission to determine which materials can be exempted by their nature from testing (such as fabric); a proposed blanket exclusion for certain natural materials, and a proposed exclusion for inaccessible parts (internal sofa rivets, or stuff deep in hard drives).

So these, if passed and reasonable, will eliminate the "sending granny to jail for knitting a baby sweater" issue. The proposed rule on a commission to exempt certain materials already has "paper, vegetable dyes, inks, adhesives, fabrics, and the like" as probably falling in the priority list for examination and exemption...which should return books to the status of legal things.

So that's my understanding of where things actually are.
posted by fuzzbean at 9:39 PM on March 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Also, IANALawyer, but IAALibrarian-In-Training.)
posted by fuzzbean at 9:52 PM on March 15, 2009


Even if the relevant agencies aren't actively enforcing the new rules, if I were running a business I'd pitch anything anyway since I would assume that regardless of government enforcement I am otherwise wide open to civil suits should anybody want to raise a stink.

I'm pretty sure "I didn't follow the statute because I knew the coppers weren't looking" is not a generally useful defense.
posted by obfusciatrist at 10:30 PM on March 15, 2009


I think we can all agree though, that most things from the eighties are dangerous, a public health hazard and should be banned.

Hey now! I was made in the eighties.
posted by wires at 6:24 AM on March 16, 2009


Miyabo asked, Companies make tiny motorcycles and ATVs which are intended for children under 12 yet can easily do 30 mph down a dirt trail and will flip over if they turn too fast...and we ban them because they contain lead?

Hey, they had to use the tax code to get Capone. *shrug* Whatever works, I guess.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:13 AM on March 16, 2009


Millions of us live in homes with lead paint, a far greater hazard. Our food supply, particularly meat, is not reliably safe. But libraries, and other owners of nice old children's books, are not lobbyists, and have no appreciable voice. Sometimes people are so stupid, it's hard to imagine how they manage to get dressed.
posted by theora55 at 7:34 AM on March 16, 2009


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