Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Scary Bedtime Story

Once upon a time there was a lady named Jennifer. Jennifer loved to make jewelry for little girls who wanted to pretend they were princesses. She sold her jewelry over the internet to many lands, but she especially liked to sell jewelry in her homeland, the faraway state of Illinois.

Illinois was once a beautiful land, but an evil dragon called Plumbum had made his nest there, in the middle of the city Chicago. Plumbum came and went where he pleased in Chicago, and soon his poisonous droppings were everywhere. The droppings made the children sick, and soon people were complaining to the King of Illinois about the dragon and his mess. "Somebody should do something about this," they all said.

So the King of Illinois went out to see what he could do about the dragon Plumbum. First he tried just banishing the dragon. But Plumbum was a wily dragon, and he could not be banished. Then he tried to pay Plumbum to go away, but there was no amount of money that Plumbum found adequate. At last, seeing that Plumbum could not be vanquished directly, he spread a proclamation throughout the land of Illinois. Anyone caught being near any of Plumbum's wicked droppings would be punished severely. You could not buy or sell or even give away anything that had been contaminated with the droppings. The King of Illinois knew that Plumbum would not obey him, but his populace would.

The people tried to obey, but sometimes people make mistakes. And Jennifer, sadly, was one of those people.

Jennifer tried as hard as she could, of course. When she went to buy beads and clasps for her jewelry, she asked if they were free from the poison droppings of Plumbum. The merchant who sold her the supplies said that they were. Now Jennifer and the merchant were kind and good people, but an evil woman named Prig hated Jennifer for being so kind and good. Prig knew a magic spell that could reveal the presence of Plumbum's droppings. She secretly bought some of Jennifer's jewelry, then applied her magic spell. When Prig found that one little corner of one of Jennifer's bracelets had touched the dragon droppings, she cackled with delight, for she knew that the King of Illinois would punish Jennifer severely.

And thus it was that one beautiful sunny day, as Jennifer was enjoying the sparkle of her beads, the King's guard came to take her away. Jennifer cried as the King's guards threw away her beads and all the bracelets and necklaces and earrings she'd made. The guards searched her house and her cow shed and even took away her cow. Jennifer did not know what she had done wrong. But the King would not hear it; the law was the law, and Jennifer must go to the dungeon and suffer for one year in the darkness.

In the dungeon, Jennifer met other people who had been accused of serious crimes like hers. They were thieves, cutpurses, evil apothecaries who had sold harmful poisons, and prostitutes. These people all wondered that such a good person as Jennifer would be confined to the dungeon like them. Was selling jewelry such a crime? But the King of Illinois held firm. It was for the best, he said, that people be taught a lesson. No one should go near the poisonous droppings of Plumbum.

When Jennifer emerged from the dungeon a year later, blinking into unaccustomed sunlight, she noticed that things had changed in the city Chicago. Children had no toys and no sparkly jewelry with which to play. They just sat around hitting each other for fun. Everything in their houses was made of cloth. Even their bowls and spoons had to be made of cloth. Some of the parents had been kicked out of their houses because droppings had been found there and they could not be scrubbed off. Jennifer saw the children, dressed all in cloth and trying to eat from cloths, and was sad. She knew it would never be safe to make jewelry, or anything else, for children ever again.

The end.

The characters in this fairy tale are made up, but Plumbum the Dragon is real and the story, sadly, is true.


Behold, if you dare, 410 ILCS 45, the Lead Poisoning Prevention Act. It is a scary tale indeed.

Now I am not a lawyer, and I'm not all that familiar with Illinois' other laws. But I can read, and I read through the law. A few things I noticed:
  • Anything with any part of it having greater than 600 ppm of lead is considered a "lead bearing substance" and it is illegal to sell to ANYONE in the state of Illinois, not just children, unless it bears a dire warning that it is a harmful poisonous substance on a tag no less than five square inches in size. So expect to see "WARNING: CONTAINS LEAD. MAY BE HARMFUL IF EATEN OR CHEWED. MAY GENERATE DUST CONTAINING LEAD. KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN." on adult jewelry, ballpoint pens, ATV's, automobile parts, vinyl purses, and other items that by necessity contain that much lead.
  • The Illinois statute does not require testing like CPSIA does, but it DOES require you to know the lead content is under 600 ppm. So get out your XRF goggles*, folks: this means that ALL products (outside of known lead-free categories like textiles and precious metals) sold in Illinois, even ones for adults, have to be tested for lead to determine whether they have lead in excess of 600 ppm, so that you'll know if you have to affix this warning label or not. This provision is in effect NOW.
  • Inaccessible electronic components are exempt from the lead limits, but their definition of accessibility differs from CPSIA's. For example, Illinois allows electroplating as a barrier, where CPSIA does not. Also CPSIA's accessibility criteria cover more than just electronic devices, while Illinois' only covers electronic devices.
  • CPSIA is supposed to supersede this law, but this will likely be challenged in court.
  • Everything used in children's residences, schools, day care centers, or other children's areas has to be under the 600 ppm limit, period. That includes items that will be used by adults in these places. No warning labels allowed. Test, test, test.
  • Children's jewelry, toys, and feeding/care items for children under 6 (not age 3 like CPSIA) are subject to the uber-stringent limit of 40 parts per million of lead, where CPSIA's most restrictive limit is 100 ppm. Jewelry in particular is very hard to test using XRF testing because of its frequently tiny and irregular surface areas, and XRF testing has difficulty resolving lead levels that small. This leaves only the expensive wet-chemistry testing option to determine if jewelry is compliant. This provision takes effect Jan. 1, 2010.
  • Violation of this law is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, confiscation of your goods, and a fine of $2500 plus $250 for every day you're not in compliance. Other Class A misdemeanors in Illinois include theft, prostitution, battery, sexual assault on a child, possession of drug paraphernalia, and child endangerment. Selling children's jewelry with 50 ppm lead, a legal act under CPSIA, is set to become a crime in Illinois tantamount to sexual assault on a child. Possession of children's jewelry with 50 ppm lead with intent to sell is going to be treated the same as possession of drug paraphernalia.
  • This law has many more odious features having to do with mandatory lead testing for children in "high risk" areas, which includes all of the city of Chicago. Children are required to have their blood tested for lead in much the same way as they are required to be vaccinated-- they are not allowed in school or day care if they are not. The law specifically states that people with religious objections are not required to have the tests done, but nowhere does it say that schools and day cares can admit those who have not had the tests done. So sorry, religious objectors, I guess it's homeschool for you. Hope it's legal in Illinois.
  • Another disturbing provision of the law allows health inspectors to search your home if your child's mandatory lead test turns up above 10 ug/dl, the CDC's "level of concern." As long as they do it at a "reasonable" time of day, they are allowed to come in upon presenting their credentials to whoever is home. If they are refused admittance, they can get a search warrant. And if a pregnant lady or a child under 6 lives with you, even if that child has tested negative for lead, if two kids in your building have lead poisoning within 5 years of each other your apartment can be searched too. While searching, the licensed inspectors are allowed to take samples of anything they suspect contains lead, or to take the objects themselves if they are portable, as if it were evidence of a crime. But nowhere does it say they have to log it. They can just take what they want, just like TSA used to do with my husband's tool box when he used to travel for work. Wanna take bets on how long it'll be before someone's jewelry or expensive tool gets "suspected?"
  • And here's what all of this draconian legislation prevents: only one referral was made in all of Illinois in 2008. While I'm sure that one child's parents are grateful to have found out their child had an elevated blood lead level in time to do something about it, is it really worth all this loss of liberty and commerce to have required everyone to go to great expense to help only this one child? Wouldn't the child have been better off if half that money had been donated to a private charitable fund for assisting children in his situation? And how many other children's other problems could have been ameliorated with the money wasted helping this one child with lead poisoning?
Folks, this is ALREADY law in Illinois, and it predates CPSIA. I desperately want this interpretation to be wrong, so if you are a lawyer or you've been in contact with lawyers about this, please correct me where I'm wrong.

If you sell to Illinois, I recommend you take a moment to review this law and decide if you want to continue. And if you live in Illinois... God help you.

* There's no such device as XRF goggles. It's kind of an inside joke between me and my CPSIA friends: XRF goggles allow you to see lead content without having tests done.