Monday, April 27, 2009

Lead in Library Books

One of the most interesting aspects of a library director’s job is that it is never boring. There are an endless number of new things to learn, as well as a surprising number of unexpected things to worry about.

The library profession had quite a scare this winter, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission released regulations for implementing The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). This legislation is intended to decrease the level of lead and phthalates in toys and other products intended to be used by young children. The original legislation was never intended to include “ordinary books”. (Ordinary books are regular books for reading, rather than printed pages that are part of some sort of toy.)

Imagine our surprise in January when we learned that under the new interpretation of the CPSIA, books are subject to the same testing requirements as children’s toys and clothing! Further, the CPSC opinion states that not only must testing be done on new books, but that the legislation is retroactive. If this requirement stands every book in a children’s collection would have to be tested by a CPSA certified lab. Libraries would be forced to close their collections of children’s books, until every item is verified to be safe.

While the ink used in older books does contain traces of lead, books have been an unregulated product. Because there is no history of children or adults being harmed by exposure to lead used in manufacturing books, there has been no need to consider regulating them. Book publishers have had all of the components used in manufacturing books tested and found that the levels of lead in the book materials are actually far below the levels that will be allowed when the highest standards of the CPSIA are implemented in three years. The Center for Disease Control has found that that there is little risk to children from lead paint in ordinary books.

In our many years of practical experience dealing with both books and children, we have seen countless library books with pages that have been torn or “enhanced” with children’s crayon, maker, and pen illustrations. Children have dropped library books into bathtubs, and wreaked havoc on our materials in many other ways. But we have not experienced many instances of children eating library books. The danger of lead comes from ingesting it, as happened with children’s toys painted with leaded paint.

In fact, when the issue of lead paint in toys first came to the attention of the public a few years ago, we tested all of the toys in the library and removed those that did contain lead-based paint.

The good news for young readers is that in response to the outcry from librarians and publishers, the CPSA has issued a one year stay on implementing the CPSIA in regard to children’s books. Federal legislation (H.R. 1692) has recently been introduced to exempt ordinary books from the CPSIA. We all hope that this or similar legislation will be adopted before the stay expires next December, so that children can continue to read the children’s books in their local public libraries.