Why Is Congress “Protecting” Children from Books?

Hi, Free-Rangers: Here’s a really thought-provoking (okay, outrage-provoking) guest blog from Rick Woldenberg, a businessman in Illinois who believes in safety, but not in spending millions to protect our our children from nearly  non-existent dangers. Read on!

By Rick Woldenberg 

Readers of Free-Range Kids may not be surprised to learn that Congress has enacted far-reaching legislation to save your children from the dangers involved in reading an old book, riding a new bike or even using a Barbie pen. That is, if after using these items, they generally eat them. 

Feel safer already? The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act  became law on August 14, 2008 and it dramatically changes the way we regulate children’s product safety.  After several toys from China were recalled in 2007/8 for high levels of lead, Congress wanted to do something – anything — so it did. And went way overboard.

Until then, the Consumer Product Safety Commission focused only on products that posed an actual threat to your child’s safety – things like faulty car seats, or toys with small parts that could break off and cause choking. Under the new law, Congress imposes arbitrary standards that require the manufacturers of pens, shoes, t-shirts, ATVs, bikes, books, backpacks and toys to “prove” the safety of their products, and label them a new way.

 It sounds like a good idea to prove your product is safe before it hits the shelves. But because the law now covers every single product made for children up to age 12, many products well-known for being safe –  books! socks! — are being regulated for the very first time. Huge wasteful costs are being imposed on all of these products.

Think about it: Less than 0.01% of all children’s products are recalled in a typical year. But now the other 99.99% will have to prove their safety first.  Guess who pays for this? 

The cost to you will be high – in more ways than one.   Not only are prices inevitably going to rise to pay for all this testing and labeling, but many of the products and companies you depend on may go under or leave the market. Small businesses, yes, including ours – we make math toys for schools — are threatened by these needless new costs.

The law also makes it difficult and risky for Goodwill, the Salvation Army and other charities to sell or give away used children’s products, because merely by selling something with plastic or old ink, they might be breaking the law. Thrift stores are reacting to the new regulations by closing their children’s departments. Some have actually THROWN OUT any children’s books printed before 1985. That’s when printing ink still included lead – which might be a problem if children sat down and ate books, page by page, but is no problem at all if they just read them.

 The law of unintended consequences is certainly at work here.  Small businesses like ours have screamed for relief to no avail.   The cost of pre-sale testing alone may force many out of business. Shoemakers don’t know why children need to be protected from licking the soles of their shoes, and pen companies worry that kids won’t be allowed to use ballpoint pens in the future. After all, there is some lead in the tiny ball that could, conceivably, be extracted and eaten by a child with strange tastes and a pair of microscopic, needle-nosed pliers.

 Meantime, some libraries have even cordoned off their children’s books, presumably to keep kids from licking their Green Eggs and Ham.  And guess who encouraged them? The current Acting Chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission!  

This safety controversy has made our country an international laughingstock.

Supporters of the law think it is “better to be safe than sorry.” I suppose if eating your dirt bike is a real risk in your household, they could be right. Sadly, Congress thinks we’d best prepare for any eventuality, no matter how tiny the danger, and how unlikely it is to occur.  If you want to express your concerns to Congress about this far-reaching, ill-thought-out law, click here.

If you are a child: Please do so with your finger – and NO LICKING!

 — Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc., Vernon Hills, Illinois



P.S. Lenore here. A friend just sent me this great (if long) article about the same topic, and how crunchy, all-natural toy makers find themselves strangely allied with stalwart Republicans in opposing this new, excessive regulation: http://www.reason.com/news/show/133228.html

79 Responses

  1. Holy. Ridiculous.

  2. i’m moving.

  3. The other sad thing is that this law effects those of us who hand craft things like toys and childrens clothes, making it more costly to sell those items or making us stop selling them because we can’t afford to pay for the testing of the materials.

  4. Legislators need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. They should worry about reality and not re-election.

  5. I’m so glad to see this. I read an article about this law in the context of libraries throwing out all books printed before 1985. The journalist didn’t even express outrage over this! I have been wanting to write about this on my own tiny blog, but have wanted to research more to learn if this seemingly ludicrous law is as bad as it seems. I know a man who recycles lumber scraps into shavings for dairy cow bedding, and he has been receiving tractor-trailer loads of books because of this law! AAAAARGH!!!! Thank you for posting on this topic, I’m still holding out for the eventual sanity of lawmakers to throw this law out!

  6. yah it leaves only the companies big enough to pay the politicians available to make toys for kids
    what about the bug and stick that my kid likes to play with better get God or Mother Earth to properly undergo testing and label these trees and animals as proper for children to play with.

    The Earth contains high levels of lead and many toxic chemicals as well as radioactive components, high strength solvents like Dihydrogen Monoxide, as well as innumerable infectious agents

    please remove all children under 12 from the vicinity of this planet and have them moved to a sterile ultrasafe environment immedately.

    For their own safety

  7. I don’t expect anyone to believe me but 99% of children’s clothing manufacturers in the United States are legally defined as a “small business”. 68% of them have fewer than 20 employees. Small businesses employ more people than large ones. This law will put 90% (yes, 90%) of US children’s clothing manufacturers out of business.

    The only people who will be left standing are big brands selling import schlock. Not that imports are necessarily bad, just that the market is focused on the cheapest price points.

    We desperately need to maintain or increase domestic manufacturing. More value is created through domestic manufacturing than service jobs. Single moms in particular, have fewer income options, they earn more sewing than they do flipping burgers or checking at Wal-Mart. The average sewing job pays $11 an hour, service jobs pay $7.

    Consumers, please help us. Congress says we (the opposition) are mouthpieces of large corps but since this law is a scenario a monopolist or large brand can only dream of, this is hardly the case.

    More: http://bit.ly/4o2UQM

  8. Thanks for posting this and helping to get the word out about the CPSIA. Sadly, the majority of the public does not know about this ridiculous law.

  9. I finally know what’s wrong with me! It’s the books I ate as a 3 year old in ’82. Or it could have been the socks in ’84. Or the pen. The sad thing is that the majority of Americans voted for the idiots passing these laws, we pay their paychecks, and they’re putting many of us (not me, I have no business) out of business. In what world does it make sense that one should give a congressperson a job only to have that same elected official pass laws that put one out of a job. Yes, it’s their fault for passing the stupid laws. Worse, it’s OUR fault as citizens for putting them into office- some of them repeatedly.

  10. UGH! Just reading this over again (I have been involved in the coalition against this for almost a year now) I get mad.
    Our goodwills in our town (Lincoln, NE) have already shut down the children’s departments, because they are fearful of being sued. SO awful. A lot of wonderful small businesses will be shut down, including, more than likely, a LOT of owners on the fruitful and beautiful website, Etsy.com (all handmade/vintage items for sale), which is such a travesty. The only companies that will be able to do this testing (that is literally thousands of $$) are the big companies who make plastic junk, not the small time toy-maker who makes beautiful, simple toys out of natural products.
    This is so sad, and it has been pushed back (it was supposed to be officially enacted I believe in feb. but they pushed the date back).
    Here is the alliance information (petition to STOP this!)
    Sarah M

  11. It’s so stupid. Lead is bad, but lead is not cyanide. That is to say, a child ONE TIME ingesting a tiny amount of lead (as in getting caught licking a book before Mommy takes it away) is not going to cause lasting harm.

    Or even if it happens five times over the course of his toddlerhood.

    If you have a kid sitting in the corner chewing up old paint chips, you have a problem. If you have a kid sucking on the corner of a book for 20 seconds, you take it away.

  12. this is one of my biggest hot buttons. i was in a huge goodwill in portland, or just after the effective date for this ruling and, yes, they had removed all old children’s books. i still frequent a lot of secondhand stores that have not yet overreacted to this extreme, but as a children’s book lover and parent, the prospect grieves me. i have a wonderful collection of old (pre-1985, per cpsia law) children’s books and it’s truly sickening to think about them being destroyed for possible lead contamination.

  13. Kathleen,

    I don’t expect anyone to believe me…

    It would be far easier to believe you if you cite your source.


  14. Thanks for letting Mr. Woldenberg be a guest. He has done a lot of work to get this law amended and there seems to be no moving of Congress.

    Fortunately people who are put out of business and those who rely on these businesses will have a long memory of this and vote appropriately in the next elections. A few have recognized the error and voted in favor of amending the CPSIA but not enough to actually get the job done.

    My children want to keep their books and be able to get spare parts for their bicycles or a new one when they grow, etc.

    This legislation is like stationing life guards at every puddle when it rains to make sure no one drowns or sending the whole country to the basement when only one township has a tornado warning.

  15. Thank god I’m Canadian.

  16. Many would be surprised to find out that Hasbro and Mattel were big supporters of this bill. This bill should have been called the Big Toy Protection Act of 2008.

  17. Brent: Re: citing my sources, perhaps you overlooked the link I left? Specifically, see the economic impact survey we did that was cited by several leading news sources such as the WSJ et al. The statistic of 99% of children’s wear manufacturers are small businesses was also mentioned in Nancy Nord’s response to Congress. Nord btw, is the chair of the CPSC.

  18. My son puts everything (everything!!) into his mouth and I still think this is beyond dumb. If I see him with a book in his mouth, I remove it. No, I’m not watching him every second, but I’m pretty sure I could catch him before he ate the whole book. (No, he doesn’t actually eat books, but he does chew on the binding…don’t ask me why)

  19. OMG. I sincerely hope that this is not going to be an instance of Canadian legislation following in the footsteps of US law …

    @JC, I am not at all surprised; that makes perfect sense, since it’s the largest manufacturers who have the most resources and the widest choice of suppliers and who can benefit the most from economies of scale, in testing as in any other arena. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist as a rule, but in this case…

    I could sort of, kind of understand if the law applied to products for kids under, say, age three, who do in fact spend a lot of time putting toys in their mouths (because this is developmentally appropriate behaviour), and sometimes books and clothing too. But, people, if your developmentally normal 11-year-old is chewing on books, you have a problem!! (And the problem is not that the books were published before 1985.)

    I have the same issue with fire-retardant kids’ sleepwear (much of which is polyester and non-breathing and very uncomfortable to sleep in). If you’re so worried that your baby will in a fire before you can get to her, make sure your smoke detectors work and sleep the baby closer to you. Problem solved! And if you’re so worried that your toddler is going to eat enough of a pre-1985 book to get lead poisoning, supervise his book-eating.

  20. Maybe they’re actually afraid that if the kids READ old books, they’ll see what they’re missing, free-range-wise. The kids in those books had amazing freedom.

  21. As the owner of a consignment store that carries childrens clothing, I was distressed to find out about this law. For everyone who shops at these stores, rest assured, consignment/thrift stores are exempt from the law requiring that the items be tested before they are sold. it’s a good thing too, cause we would have been out of a lot of customers.

  22. there were no unintended consequences with this law. a quote from my senator’s staff…”you are right that the CPSIA imposes costs on businesses, and because of economies of scale it’s the smaller businesses that will feel these costs more acutely. This is part of a larger calculation that it’s worth the costs to shift from the old system of post-market correction (once a dangerous product is out in the market and leads to sick kids, recalls, lawsuits, etc.) to a new system of pre-market testing and certification (instead of just assuming products are safe and paying the price for false assumptions).”

  23. Olivia, presumably your child is an infant or a toddler. The safety rules and considerations for a child under three years of age are quite different than from older children. Small kids will definitely put things in their mouths which means that manufacturers must anticipate it, and parents need to keep a watchful eye. One way that the CPSIA goes too far is by blurring the distinction between the “Under Three’s” and the “Over Three’s”. A child under three deserves more protection by law since he/she is not capable of exercising good judgment in even the most basic circumstances. This is how the law always worked, by the way! Rick

  24. Doesn’t Congress have bigger problems to solve? I understand that child safety is something that everyone cares about, but I think the case could be made that children are more in danger of respiratory illnesses due to air pollution or problems related to food additives than they are from the fraction of toys that might be unsafe.

    I agree that infant and toddler toys should be held to a higher standard. However, I resent the fact that Congress doesn’t trust parents or small businesses to make the right decisions. I am so tired of the intense over-reaction to a few isolated incidents.

  25. Tiffany, are you sure thrift and consignment stores are exempt? Mr. Woldenburg seems to say otherwise. And that is my number one concern about this law. If I can’t get my kid’s clothes second hand, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

  26. Always so lovely to see that saying “It’s for the chiiiiildren!” can make Congress close its eyes and vote for one of the most idiotically overprotective bills I’ve ever heard of. I’ve written about this in the past on my site. It drives me up the wall that it’s such a fight to get it amended.

    There is nothing reasonable or rational about the extremes this bill requires manufacturers to go to.

  27. I agree that CPSIA will have a negative impact on small manufacturers, which is unfortunate. I try very hard to avoid big chain stores and buy at our local toy store whenever possible.

    But, whenever I read an outraging claims, I usually head over to Snopes.com to see what they have to say on it. Ah yes, here it is. They do seem to call BS on the claim that CPSIA “makes it risky … to sell or give away used children’s products, because merely by selling something with plastic or old ink, they might be breaking the law”.

    BTW, what does this have to do with free-range parenting?

  28. As Kathleen Fasanella says, so many businesses are effected by this law. It’s not just books, or toys, or ball point pens, or motor bikes…its ALL products for children 12 and under. I cannot imagine what products will be left on shelves of stores if this law doesn’t get amended. Essentially all small batch producers will close shop as they cannot afford the costs of labeling, testing, and certification.

    Yes, it’s insane that perfectly good books are being destroyed but that’s just the beginning of the CPSIA devastation. Can you even imagine how many small cottage industries who make children’s products will close shop soon? Many already have.

    As a parent, I cannot imagine not being able to shop local and support small businesses and with this law EVERY business who sells children’s products is affected. Either stores will stop selling items or manufacturers will stop producing and we’ll be left with the “big box brands” that can afford the compliance. Say goodbye to American made/handmade products for kids.

    The more I learn about this law and how Congress is finger pointing and playing partisan politics, the more I realize how much our government has either ulterior motives or the lobbyists are controlling everything.

    At any rate, thank you for the post. It fits perfectly with the Free Range Kids idea—now more than ever we need Free Range Parenting! (And government!) Thank you.

  29. What bothers me most is the stupidity of CPSIA isn’t getting any mainstream media attention. The best thing we can do to get this thrown out is to educate others.

    Did you know that in some middle school science classes rocks and other natural minerals that come in educational kits are deemed unsafe under this law? Mother Nature can’t be regulated and thus the products may contain miniscule amounts of lead. To avoid testing fees and lawsuits, ROCKS ARE DEEMED TOO DANGEROUS FOR KIDS. Rocks. They’re going to use posters to teach geology instead.

    Seriously, pop over to the Overlawyered blog for a detailed chronicle of developments since the law was enacted,

  30. Kids books really are dangerous.

    If they read them, they might learn to THINK.

    And we can’t have that.

  31. Stepan- Snopes is not entirely correct on this one. While it is not illegal to sell used items without certification, if the items sold violate the new standards, the seller is liable for thousands of dollars in fines. It’s a catch-22- they don’t have to test, but if they don’t test, they don’t know for sure if they are in compliance. Hence the reason thrift stores are ditching things with buttons and zippers and books printed before 1985- just in case. And as to how this regards free-range parenting—it is completely relevant. Do you want the government regulating every single item your child touches? Do you want your 12 year old to learn about geology from a poster, or from touching ACTUAL rocks (which are apparently now too dangerous to use in classrooms). Meaningless over-regulation interferes with our ability to raise kids who think for themselves and have quality life and educational experiences. Instead of free-range, kids will be in a plastic bubble!

    Tiffany- while you don’t need to test before selling, you still need to comply with the new limits. For some items, there is no way to know if what you are selling complies with the very low (and somewhat arbitrary) limits imposed by Congress. If you sell a rhinestone-emblazoned t-shirt to a child under 13, or a sweatshirt with a zipper that fails on the one tiny soldered piece, you are in violation (and liable). Thrift stores need more relief than just an exemption from testing.

  32. While I don’t make children’s products, many of my fellow sellers of handmade products on Etsy are throwing their collective weight behind fighting this poorly-thought out piece of crap…erm, legislation.

    Yes, it’s great to protect kids from the blatant dangers, but when handmade products made here in the US AND the livelihoods of the people who make them are being threatened, it’s time to rethink the so-called benefits. Because in this case, the negatives are far outweighing the positives.

    This is another example of a well-intentioned law not being thought out to the end before it gets pushed through Congress.

  33. Rick – he’s actually three and a half, and really shouldn’t put things in his mouth as much as he does, but not because I worry about his safety, just because it’s kinda gross. But that’s a whole other issue. 🙂 If he’s still doing it when he’s 15, I’ll worry about it. Or if he starts eating old books, I suppose.

  34. 5.Hi !!

    I made a blog that review explosive article and entries of the web !

    I think you got some nice material !

    Do you mind if a pick, one article of yours for reviews and add it to our collection ,with your website name and adresses mentioned !

    Do you mind ?


  35. […] Why Is Congress “Protecting” Children from Books? Hi, Free-Rangers: Here’s a really thought-provoking (okay, outrage-provoking) guest blog from Rick Woldenberg, a […] […]

  36. I am also upset about this bc of the impact to both public and school libraries. Funding is terrible for libraries right now and a law that makes them get rid of books is appalling. I hate that children won’t have access to old books that I loved as a child, bc libraries won’t replace most of those books. They won’t be able to afford it.
    It’s scary to think that our elected representatives are really that dumb!

  37. Well, hell.

    I better throw out my classic Judy Blume box collection that I have saved since I was little, in case I don’t get dinner on the table quick enough and the girls start tearing through the pages like they are Doritos. That set has got to have more lead in it than the left over 1968 antique white paint I also saved to touch up my old school spindle crib!

    : -)

  38. Great post about how ridiculous this legislation is. One thing that I didn’t see that makes the biggest difference to me in being against the CPSIA instead of all for it and that is how they require the third party testing and labeling. I think everyone can say that they do not want anyone selling unsafe products for children. Unfortunately the CPSIA affects products that are in fact safe, but the testing and labeling requirements make it cost prohibitive to continue making.

  39. As a specialist in custom children’s furniture and bedding, this law as it currently written effectively puts WarmBiscuit.com out of business. If the law were MODIFIED to allow component testing (where by paint used in our furniture was certified BY the manufacturer as LEAD free and or the fabrics used in our US sewing room was certified by the MILL that it was lead free) than it is feasible to remain in business.

    Custom based business’ can not conduct 3rd party testing as it effectively destroys the products.

    It is important to note that the EPA has monitored/tracked lead levels in children and from 1978 to 2002 there was a 98% DECREASE in the number of elevated blood levels. (Going from 13.5 Million cases to 310,000 cases. These cases are not FATAL. The children’s industry responds to lead scares and is capable of self correcting itself as shown with the decrease in lead levels.

    This law is a PRIME example of regulation being so BROADLY written that it reeks havoc on 100% of the industry whereby only a small percentage caused any problem at all. Waste and duplication are only the beginning of the problem.

    Once the CPSC laws come into effect, they essentially are IMPOSSIBLE to reverse.

  40. So bang goes childhood then – nothing to read, wear or play with. To say nothing of sleep in, eat with or on etc. Standardized junk only and if its all in one colour that’s just too bad.

    Posters of rocks? My kids have had rocks forever – we both did geology. Haven’t noticed any lead poisoning yet 🙂 What happens when they go outside – do all the rocks just vanish?

    viv in nz

  41. Don’t these idiots get it? Raising children in an environment that challenges them, intellectually, physically and yes, immune-wise makes them stronger. Oh wait, they do, that’s why they’re doing it. Social engineering by mandate.

  42. It’s funny because as a “free range mom” part of what I’m trying to teach my children by letting them venture out on their own is to think before they act or there may be negative consequences. Remember Midas and everything he touched turned to gold? Did no one making this regulation read this story? Oh sorry, it was before “85.

  43. For handmade toy sellers, I don’t understand why they just can’t place disclaimers on their websites and store walls and details of what the toy is made out of. If the parent should still consider the toy safe for their child, then there shouldn’t be a problem. I’m pretty sure the paranoid parents won’t buy them and the free range parents wouldn’t sue the store.

  44. I’ve been writing to my legislators about this for months and, to their credit I have gotten some good responses. This is absolutely ridiculous!

    [sarcasm] This is just what the economy needs. [/sarcasm]

  45. I told this story to my friends and husband last night and all they could do was laugh in disbelief. Something this ridiculous shouldn’t be allowed to exist but yet it does. It’s up to the people to put pressure where it needs to be and get this law amended.

    Go Free Range! said that putting up a disclaimer in the store might be enough to protect small business owners. Does anyone know if this is true? If it is, great idea!

  46. Well, I hope they don’t start regulating my duct tape, because the more articles I read like this, the more I have to buy to wrap my head so IT DOESN’T EXPLODE!!!!

  47. I’m glad you’ve posted about this issue. It is unreal and I’ve chosen to close down my clothing business until this all gets resolved. I have many friends who also handcraft children’s items that will be affected if this law stays the way it is. I’m all for keeping our children safe, but this piece of legislation is overkill and doesn’t really achieve its stated objective. All it will accomplish is putting millions of small business owners out of business.

  48. Unfortunately, Go Free Range!, disclaimers can’t override the new law. The new law has absolute standards, meaning that they are arbitrary (unrelated to risk) and fixed (unbending based on fact and circumstance). Nothing can override them by the terms of the law, even the observation that lead in our food and water presents a greater (albeit insignificant) risk than lead in the products subject to this law. No one wants to hear that common sense observation – it’s much easier to fear the unknown. The article above links to a blog/essay I wrote called “Eat My Dust” which goes through the mathematics of lead intake. You will see that (a) the issue is tiny in most cases, and (b) it doesn’t matter – the law outlaws it all anyway. The outcry of small businesses, as reflected in the many comments to this blogpost, have been ignored. Please keep this in mind the next time you go into the voting booth!

  49. “Don’t these idiots get it? Raising children in an environment that challenges them, intellectually, physically and yes, immune-wise makes them stronger.”

    Though I agree with nearly everything that’s been said here on this subject, heavy metal poisoning is not something that builds immunity or can immunity developed for it. There is no preventive benefit to lead exposure.

    That said, though, the tiny proportions we’re talking about, and the fact that a pretty sustained amount of preventable behavior is necessary to ingest them, makes it irrelevant.

  50. Rick, who introduced and supported this peice of crap legislation? Republicans? Democrats? I’d like some names please, so I know who I’m writing letters too. I’m sure others in the thread would appreciate it as well.

  51. So it sounds like our government is doing a superb job of continuing to hinder progress of restoring the economy. Instead of spending time trying to improve our country’s state, they are “working hard” at the expense of our hard earned taxes we pay to spend their work day drumming up crap that causes business to hemorrhage more money, when a lot of them are struggling to survive as it is! I have 2 children, little ones at that, and I more concerned that they will find an old cracker that my daughter has stashed than I am about her finding pinpoint specs of lead! We better watch our government, they are started to bear down on us, they very act we attempted to get away from when our ancestors started this great nation.

  52. Jen,
    Look at this link Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act

    Pretty much all Reps and Senators voted for the act. Who were they representing ……

  53. Jen, it is true that the bill passed 424-1 in the House and 89-3 in the Senate last summer so it rode a wave of bipartisan support. This bill came up during an election year, so voting “yes” was a must for those who wanted to be reelected. At the time, no one would speak out against this law because it had the word “safety” in it. Since then, things have changed. The Republicans (in my view) have recognized that the bill has substantial flaws and at least 11 bills are pending in Congress to change the law. These bills (which aren’t moving and may never move) have been sponsored (or voted for, in the case of one Sense of the Senate bill about the new law) by more than 90 Members of Congress including a handful of Democrats. The prime actors today propping up this legislation are Henry Waxman, Bobby Rush, Jan Schakowsky, Nancy Pelosi (House) and Mark Pryor, John Rockefeller, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein (Senate). It’s a group that is heavily dominated by Californian legislators. No surprise then that the bill is modeled on or coordinated with existing California laws.

  54. Meanwhile, children attending our local public school are exposed daily to crumbling asbestos floor tiles. The plan has been to replace the ones in worst condition ongoingly as the budget allows, and in the meantime render them safe(?) by covering them with duct tape. I must say, it’s a relief to know the books are the REAL hazard!

  55. Lenore and Rick, thanks for this excellent post. The ramifications for children’s books threaten the history of children’s literature, and also endanger literacy programs, libraries (school and public), lower income kids, and more.

    The saddest part is that books, even the old ones, are nearly all perfectly safe, except for all but perhaps the tiny number of children who actually EAT books. First, according to tests by the CPSC, most children’s books, including the old ones, do not fail even the current strict standards for lead and most of those that do barely exceed the limits – but you can only identify the problem ones by testing them, and testing destroys them. Second, the ink used to print books soaks into the paper and becomes part of the substrate; it doesn’t rub off on hands. The little research done on lead leaching from ink found that it needed an extremely acid environment for the lead to come out; saliva was not nearly acid enough, though stomach acid was (so you don’t have to worry about a child who merely mouths or licks a book). This finding is consistent with the fact that books have NEVER been found to contribute to even one case of lead poisoning in a child. Based on the science and track record of books, the CDC ranked books at 0.5 on a 1-10 scale of risk for causing lead poisoning. Third, and this may be the most important aspect, exposure to lots of children’s books, even the old ones, may well be protective against the harmful effects of lead poisoning. Both animal and human studies suggest that a mentally stimulating environment (like the one you get with high exposure to books) is both protective and corrective against lead poisoning in children. By taking away books – and many other high quality toys, science materials, educational supplies, etc. – we may actually be increasing the effects of the lead exposure kids incur from the main sources of lead poisoning (like old leaded paint and soil), which aren’t addressed at all by this law.

    Brent, and anyone else who wants sources for my assertions, see my blog, doodlesandnoodles.blogspot.com. I also have a two-page summary of how the law affects children’s books that you can send to your senators and representative at http://www.scribd.com/doc/13922774/cpsia-book-fact-sheet. The Deputy Headmistress at heartkeepercommonroom.blogspot.com also has lots of interesting discussion about the law as it pertains to books.

  56. The Republicans (in my view) have recognized that the bill has substantial flaws and at least 11 bills are pending in Congress to change the law. These bills (which aren’t moving and may never move…

    Those bills need to be moved then, by parents and teachers and small business owners putting the proper pressure on their gov’t officials. I personally don’t care which party is for or against it as long as it gets fixed!

  57. Thank you for drawing attention to this absurd legislation. To find its true motivation, look at those who will benefit.

  58. Be careful with your books. Books have sharp teeth. I have known a book to sink its teeth into to a poor child’s leg and give her cancer! Don’t touch the pages’ edges lest you get a paper cut and then touch a stranger’s blood and get AIDS!

    Please, people, let us protect our children from people who think they know what is best for children!

  59. […] Protect our children from people who think they know what is best for children! […]

  60. I can only add that ALL small businesses which sold children’s items (toys, clothes, books, etc) whether imported or hand-made by the business person has been screaming for at least a year to do something to stop this to no avail. During the last 10 days prior to its intended active date, the Committee Actually made several changes trying to stop the public outcry; but it was still too confusing for most small busines owners to know if they could comply. So many (including my daughter’s embroidery design & children’s clothing shop) simply closed their doors, or stopped selling children’s items, including our local Thrift stores by the original date. THEN IT was reported that the CPSIA had voted to delay the date to activate the new law; but for many it was too late. Some Larger companies actually managed to get all their ducks in a row to have safety testing done & list safety messages on their websites and printed packaging prior to the date. BUT thousands, if not millions of small artisans & shopkeepers were put completely out of business already due to this new act; and it has now been delayed for a year. (At least that was at my last check on its progress) Now those who decided to wait it out may be able to go without sales until it does finalize; but most will eventually fall apart and go bankrupt! It is already too late!

  61. […] “My fear is that the offerings of toys will finally be whittled down to the top 40 manufacturers, and everyone from Wal-Mart to FAO Schwarz will have to source the same things from the same places, manufactured as cheaply as possible.” [Linda Hays (Hopscotch Toys, McMinnville, Ore.), ToyDirectory.com] More views from toyland: Handmade Toy Alliance and Cecilia Leibovitz; Rick Woldenberg in Roll Call and at Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids. […]

  62. Truly sad. The problem is, we keep giving the government more and more leeway to “protect” us. The day of bubble life isn’t far away.

  63. I think this bill is a good example of “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

  64. This has been so controversial in the crafting community as people try to figure out what the legislation means for them. Meanwhile, our local Goodwill has stopped selling children’s clothing because of it. It’s a nightmare.

    This is a classic example of well-intentioned legislation going horribly awry. It was first introduced in response to all the cheap imported toys that had to be recalled due to lead contamination – there was a rash of baby and toddler toys with lead paint on them being imported and sold here. We had a train set that was recalled for being covered with lead paint a year after we bought it – long after my toddler had chewed most of the paint off.

    Sadly, this legislation punishes small businesses while letting big importers continue to flood our homes with cheap plastic toys. Shame on you, Congress!

  65. Sierra, I am sure you felt a sense of betrayal when you found your child had used a defective train set. Unfortunately, manufacturers make mistakes, and all manufacturing involves risk. Some of these errors are much less threatening than portrayed in the media. For instance, the famous recall of the Sarge car by Mattel (about 400K units) was due to TWO CANS OF YELLOW PAINT. The defective paint was only used to create a thin yellow trim line on the wheels. Can you imagine the challenge of ensuring that defective paint never gets into a huge factory capable of making 400,000 units of something? Never, ever make such a mistake? This is a tall order, even for Six Sigma companies.

    Recalls of products ranging from cars to iPods to stoves and hoodies are common. We in the manufacturing sector work hard to keep errors and defects to an absolute minimum. These risks cannot be reduced to zero but they can be kept small. Put the odds of errors together with the presence of a few bad actors, and you have the risks of the marketplace. In the case of children’s products, this is a low risk as demonstrated by years of data. Other solutions to this problem (education, better relationship between regulators and industry, consistent, fair and understandable adminstration of the laws) would achieve the improvement in safety everyone wants (at a much lower cost). The naive idea that defects will disappear with stricter standards and draconian penalties has no support with experience in any market, unfortunately.

  66. I spent my childhood in second-hand clothes so I can understand how huge a blow this is to families.

    The idea of second hand stores throwing out old books sickens me. What a waste of such an enormous treasure trove of .imagination. Why not donate the books to a library?!

  67. There is alot of outrage expressed towards this legislation-as there should be. However, I’m shocked that people are so nonchalant about lead (and other harmful chemicals) in the products they buy. Sure it’s just a little, but our bodies accumulate all these little bits. It’s called the body burden. Read Our Stolen Future if you really want to get mad.

    We should be phasing it out. We should have testing standards. We should have labeling. We-not you or I or small businesses-but the raw material people, Industry. Who mines the lead? Who produces the lead paint? THEY should have the burden upon them.

    I know this legislation is hurting small businesses. I know that it’s poorly written. That is something to be mad about, too. But since it moves you so, how about using that energy to do something positive, instead of calling names?!

    Check out this awesome article on toxicity and business ethics. If you read down, the author, Carolyn Raffensperger, talks about what she calls the precautionary principle. If we could bring this model into legislating (and citizenship), we might have more sensible and environmentally sound laws.


    Please, please. Write your representatives. Tell THEM what you don’t like about the legislation. And don’t be afraid to also tell them what you would like to see.

  68. Ok ,thanks !

    The job is done !

    You are now invited to look at the post we made to presente your article and blog !

    If you wanna proceed to ;


    let us know , if anything wrong !!

    meanwhile , enjoy blogging !!

  69. “That’s when printing ink still included lead – which might be a problem if children sat down and ate books, page by page, ”

    I’ve heard there is quite the epidemic of kids eating the pages in their books….

  70. I’m usually 100% on board with the pieces in this blog, but I’m not sure about this one. My son is 14 months old and puts everything he can get his hands on into his mouth. There isn’t a pair of shoes in the house that he hasn’t licked, sucked on, or chewed. He’s also ripped apart cardboard and paper books and eaten the pages. Literally chewed and swallowed whole pages before we realized what was going on. He’s kind of like a puppy in this respect. So, I do agree that there should be some regulation that products sold (not just children items) not have harmful ingredients. I also find the examples of laughable behavior cited in this piece to be not so laughable. I’ve caught my son chewing on the wheels to my mountain bike. That is what lots of little kids do: stick things in their mouths.

    HOWEVER, while the removal of egregiously and unambiguously dangerous materials is a good thing, it is also my responsibility as a parent to stop my kid from putting everything in his mouth, and hopefully by the time he’s a little older it won’t be an issue anymore. But is sure is now. It’s a company’s responsibility to make sure their products aren’t harmful. It’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure their kids don’t USE the product harmfully or in a way it was not intended to be used.

    Yes, it’s “funny” to think of a 10 year old reading a book and when he’s finished eating it. But small children (ages 6mo-2yrs) are going to eat toys and books. It would be nice to think they are safe. The catch here is to find a reasonable balance. For the record, I don’t think this legislation necessarily does that, but it’s not all as evil as this makes it sound.

  71. P.S. I just want to say add that, yes, I do see that it is clear the law is having unintended consequences by damaging thrift stores and libraries and no, I don’t think this is good. Obviously, the law needs to be improved and specified to address actual threats not just broad sweeping phantom threats.

  72. @rwoldenberg

    I hear your point that products for young children have different regulations because of the ability to anticipate that young children will put things in their mouths. However, no 14 month old is going to put in his mouth ONLY the items that were manufactured for ages 3 and under! The issue here isn’t that legislators are evil for trying to keep products safe, they just used a heavy mallet when a scalpel was required.

  73. This is the third place I’ve read about this. The message that keeps coming into my mind is Phillip K. Howard, you have written in vain. It is just like a chapter out of his profound book about regulatory law, “The Death of Common Sense” written a little more than a decade ago, and apparently unheeded.

    The fact of the matter is this is just a bad law. It was a reaction made in a panic. A huge action taken for the sake of action without any thought given to consequences. A legislative binge.

    And as such, as an example of utter foolishness it does not need to be tolerated, does not need to be amended or toned down, it needs to be outright and fully repealed. Grade F and back to the drawing board. You messed up royally so start fresh. No excuses lawmakers, you are supposed to think before you act and you didn’t.

  74. It’s actually even worse than it initially looks because it’s only legalto sell children’s books printed between 1985 and 2008 if they met the CPSA’s definition of “ordinary book.” The “ordinary book” definition specifically excludes books that use staples.

    I stripped my book store shelves and about 1/4 to 1/3 of all picture books for children under age 5 use staples somewhere in the binding. All Golden Books do, even though they’re hidden under the gold binding so kids can’t even prick themselves. They’re used to reinforce the binding vs the rough handling little ones dish out.

    Nevermind that staples won’t actually WORK if they’re filled with lead. Lead is too soft to be used.

    Here’s photos of what my children’s section looked like after I took out all those dangerous old books… and those dangerous staples:

    For extra stupidity, I cannot GIVE them away. Nor can I throw them out, because they’re now considered hazardous waste. Instead they’re sitting in storage while they clarify this whole mess.

    I complained to my congree critters. One of them sent back a letter saying he was proud to have voted for this! He’s so not getting my vote…

  75. Elizabeth, the solution, as it often is, is with YOU. YOU need to keep your books and breakable items out of your child’s reach.

    My nieces only every destroyed ONE book of mine or their parents. Why? Because after the first one, we kept any that weren’t board books on a high shelf. They only ever broke ONE plate. Why? After the first one, we gave them plastic until they could be more careful.

  76. Uly; (and some others above) this issue is not about what children do or don’t put into their mouths. It has to do with Congress and their habit of ‘overkill legislation’ being used to put hundreds of thousands of small businesses and craftspeople completely out of business by requiring safety testing of EACH PART & PRODUCT USED IN ANY ITEM MANUFACTURED (EVEN HAND-MADE) FOR USE BY CHILDREN 12 & UNDER. Even if the parts were made by another company, YOU have to be responsible for the original companies safety testing IF YOU SELL IT. Think about a cute toddlers outfit of a t-shirt with handpainted graphic with the child’s name and a little skirt or tu-tu to match with little ribbons sewed on to it. YOU have to have safety info from the makers of the ribbon, the embroidery threads, the t-shirt, the fabric of the tu-tu, the elastic in the waist brand, the paints for the graphic AND anything else you have embellished the outfit with — and it must have a label attesting to ALL OF THAT, plus a PUBLISHED SITE WHERE THAT INFO CAN BE FOUND! Of Course your contact info must also be found on that site for them to use to sue YOU if by chance one of these parts makers falsified their data! NOW DO YOU FOLKS GET THE PICTURE? THEY HAVE COMPLETELY ERASED AN INDUSTRY OVERNIGHT – ONE THAT SUPPORTED MANY FAMILIES BY THE OFTEN ‘SECOND INCOME’ OF THE STAY AT-HOME-MOM! Many of them depended on that income, and now with all the millions of layoffs in this economy – WHAT HAPPENS NOW??? This legislation has made a HUGE impact on work-at-home small businsesses. The poster above who spoke about Congress using a sledge-hammer when they needed a scalpel was right. We do want to protect our kids from harmful chemicals and products – what we needed was a well thought bill to handle items not manufactored with the same safety standards that the U.S. companies already have to comply with, and it should allow as acceptable products made with materials which had already been tested individually by their companies. A simple ‘content’ label should have sufficed for small businesses, listing the manufacturers of the parts. OH! And for those items created by the artisan, a simple listing of the items parts should be acceptable (example: toy riding horse/ describe wood used and the name of the paint, stain or shellac maker used in the trim out). Common Sense is missing from this legislation! Talula

  77. Okay, so now I know why our local thrift store no longer carries kids stuff. Too bad – 99% of my kids stoys and clothes used to come from there, and I thought I was teaching them some great lessons! They learned that re-using stuff was better for the planet. They learned that they could get a whole lot more with their allowance if they shopped at Salvation Army than Target. I let them pick out all their own clothes; it never came to more than $10 – what one item would cost retail.
    Oh well, at least they’re not regulating garage sales. Or are they?

  78. […] mer på Free Range Kids bloggen: Free Range Kids – Why Does Congress Believe Children are Eating Books? eller mer om böcker på […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: