Thursday, August 06, 2009

CPSIA's New Guidance, Part 2: Books

One of the lengthier segments of CPSC's new guidance document deals with books. CPSC exempts new books from third party lead testing, but not "older books" (generally regarded as those published before 1985). The exemption is new, and comes just in time for the August 14 deadline that would otherwise have required these books to have third party testing for lead. Of course, most large publishers have probably already had that testing done in anticipation of the deadline. I doubt many of them waited till a week before the deadline to do anything about it.

As had been anticipated by anyone who'd watched the hearings on lead, CPSC found on the basis of scientific evidence that modern printing processes do not use lead. The CMYK inks have to be transparent in order to get the color blending effect that enables them to produce the entire rainbow of colors, and lead based inks are not transparent. Paper is made from wood, which is naturally lead-free. Even the dyes that color paper are lead-free. And CPSC played the "inaccessibility" card on the bindings, declaring all that glue and stuff to be inaccessible and therefore exempt. Once again, I'm not sure how they pulled that off, seeing as how as a kid I used to love to stick my finger down inside the bindings of books, but they seem to be advertising that they have a gigantic blind spot where the word "inaccessible" appears.

However, CPSC flat-out refused to exempt metal and plastic binding components, and with good reason: these have been recalled in the past. They really couldn't categorically exempt them, so anybody who was hoping they might was bound to be disappointed (pun intended). The problem with this is that many short books for small children are bound with highly accessible staples. I don't think even the CPSC could get away with saying those staples are "inaccessible".

The most interesting parts of the document, though, take the American Library Association's objections point by point. The ALA, like just about everyone in the entire universe who isn't in Congress, doesn't want children's books to fall prey to CPSIA's oppressive requirements. However, you'd think a group of people who truly love books would have read enough of them to learn how to put together a cohesive argument.

The ALA originally supported CPSIA, evidently not realizing that books were "children's products." Indeed, from what I can infer from CPSC's response to their letter, ALA claimed that books simply weren't products, since they are magically made from smog-free air and unicorn farts and 100% pure virtue. Or something like that, anyway; I'm not sure how they honestly thought they could get away with claiming that a book is not a product, or at least not one of those products, horribly mundane things that they are.

ALA also claimed that books are not distributed in interstate commerce, another risible claim. They asserted that since libraries aren't selling anything, they should be exempt. Sure, except for a couple of things: first, that you don't have to sell something for it to be "distributed" (which was CPSC's point and sufficient to torpedo the argument) and second, that libraries do indeed sell books. Besides their regular book sales, there's always the situation where a person loses a book, pays for its replacement, finds the book and keeps it. I've bought my share of books off the library that way. If that's substantially different from a sale, I don't know how.

CPSC unhelpfully points out, though, that libraries are not required to test the books. This is the central Catch-22 behind the problems thrift stores have with CPSIA: they too are not required to test for lead, just to make sure the lead isn't there. How they're to do that without testing is beyond me; we joke on Twitter that we should put on our "XRF Goggles" so that we can just look at items and see where the lead is. Technically it is the manufacturer of the goods which is responsible for the testing, which in this case would be the publisher. But damned if any publishers are going to be conducting testing on books published more than 20 years ago. If not them, then who? Libraries (and used booksellers) are the only parties left standing with any interest in getting those books tested. And none of them can afford it.

So since the ALA appears to be out of ludicrous theories why books should evade CPSIA's grasp, we are back where we started: they don't. Books published after 1985 are now officially exempt, but books published before 1985 are still, technically, banned. They're not covered by the CPSC's February stay of enforcement, and they can't legally be distributed, in or out of interstate commerce, unless they're known not to contain violative amounts of lead, something that can't be determined without testing.

And thus we all eagerly await the further light and knowledge CPSC has pledged to bestow upon us regarding older children's books. I truly want to see how they propose to deal with the thorny situation Congress has created for these endangered treasures.