Protecting Kids from “Dangers” Like Rhinestones. And Books.

Hi Readers! Remember during the summer I ran a post by businessman Rick Woldenberg about the wacky new Consumer Product Safety law? Here’s a little of what he said:

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.

That law lead to horrors like thrift shops throwing out their pre-1985 children’s books because they couldn’t prove that the ink inside those books was lead-free. Really!

So finally Congress is holding a hearing on the law this  Thursday, Sept. 10. You’d think our elected offiicials would call in some scientists, or even parents, who could pretty effectively argue that this law covers  way too many products that really are not harming children. Things like rhinestones on T-shirts, and the rocks studied in geology class. (Not radium. Rocks!) 

The problem is not just that this law is ridiculously all-encompassing. It’s that that the law gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission zero  flexibility to exercise judgment: anything that may have lead in it, even if the agency ITSELF believes there is absolutely no health risk, is still banned. Calling Kafka!

Unfortunately, the Committee inexplicably is planning to call exactly one witness to this hearing: the chairwoman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission herself. That excludes, obviously, folks like Rick, a maker of educational toys, and folks like me, a mom who argues that as much as I adore safety we are going overboard trying to protect children from unbelievably remote dangers. Including the dangers of eating books and socks and rocks.

The whole Free-Range philosophy is that we cannot protect children from everything without sealing them inside a tower (which poses its own dangers, agreed?). And to protect kids from old books — sheesh. Where would I have been without my dog-eared, yellowing copy of “Little Women” growing up? A book I loved but somehow managed not to eat?

If you’d like to write an email protesting this law or lack of public input, please send it to  Rick says he will make certain it’s submitted. For additional information and to see Rick’s letter go to

Thanks — Lenore (off to munch on a delicious chunk of granite)