1Members of the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously Friday to hold off on a Feb. 10 deadline in which manufacturers were to sell only products that have been tested for lead and other harmful substances.
Called the "Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act," the broadly worded law has sent shock waves across libraries, bookstores, toy stores, handcrafted toy makers and others involved in making or handling children's items.
Last summer, lawmakers imposed the toughest lead standards in the world in the wake of 2007's mass recalls of Chinese-made toys that contained lead, Manufacturers will now have until Feb. 10, 2010, to comply with the testing requirements.
The law was passed in the wake of 2007's mass recalls of Chinese-made toys that contained lead. It calls for the testing of every product that is marketed to American children age 12 and under. The list of those products includes items such as textbooks, children's books, toys, school supplies, cosmetics and children's furniture. Almost all products must be able to prove that they meet the lead test standards, or else face civil or criminal charges up to $100,000 and five years in prison.
Public libraries and school libraries must also make sure there is no lead in their children's books.
"For us it's simply impossible to come into compliance," said Cindy Diminture, library director at Newburyport Public Library. To comply with the law, the library would have to test every children's book on its shelves for lead.
"It could be a disaster if this comes into effect," she said.
Diminture is hopeful that libraries will win an exemption from the law. She said a decision is expected this week from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is charged with enforcing the regulation. The American Library Association has been lobbying hard for the exemption, but calls the situation "extremely fluid" and says it receives "new and sometimes contradictory information on a regular basis" from the government.
Before the extension was granted, the association noted, in a statement released last week, that under the law, "public, school, academic and museum libraries would be required either to remove all their children's books or ban all children under 12 from visiting the facilities as of Feb. 10."
"If the commission does not correct their ruling to include library books under the regulation of the Consumer Product Safety Act, communities and schools across the country are going to be shocked and outraged on Feb. 10," wrote Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the association's Washington office.
Amesbury Public Library has also been tracking the law through the library association. "There's a lot of people who are taking a 'wait and see' approach," said Library Director Katie McDonough.
Children's book publishers have argued that their own independent tests show there is no danger in the materials used to produce books. And there has never been a recall of a book due to unhealthy lead levels.
Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, met with a wide variety of manufacturers on Jan. 22 to answer questions about the law.
"The legislation doesn't give us a lot of latitude to deal with these issues that are coming up," she told the publishers. "We're working very hard to figure out ways to implement the spirit of the legislation without imposing unintended or undue costs on folks who are manufacturing safe products. But that is a challenge for us, based on the way the statute is written."
At Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, owner Sue Little noted that testing has shown that lead is not used in the production of children's books, nor any book for that matter. She worries that the cost of testing books will drive up the cost of books for consumers, and ultimately have an impact on the number of books that parents buy for their children. She stressed the importance of reading to children, and hoped the law would not diminish it.
The bill passed in the House nearly unanimously, and with an overwhelming majority in the Senate. Among those voting in favor were greater Newburyport's representatives — Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, and Congressman John Tierney.
Tierney didn't return a phone call from The Daily News asking for comment.