Thursday, February 05, 2009

Book burning on Feb. 10th 2009 due to CPSIA

Book in Flames

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA H.R. 4040) has a good goal: protect kids from dangerous imports tainted with lead. Bravo! Unfortunately it goes about doing so in such a way that it’ll drive up costs across the board, drive many manufacturers and retailers out of business, and not really make kids any safer.

So what does CPSIA do? It mandates lead testing for ALL items intended for children under 13 or PERCEIVED as being for those under age 13. So items commonly regarded as “kids stuff” even if it is intended for adults, such as many comics, collectible books, high end popups, etc, still falls under the statute even though they’re aimed at adult collectors.

It requires UNIT testing. The final product must be tested from each batch. It doesn’t matter if all the components going into it are certified and have been tested as having no lead, it still must be tested for lead.

Here’s an example. You publish textbooks for 4th graders. You publish a science textbook. You publish a spelling book. They are printed with all the same materials, on the same day, on the same press, with the same crew manning it. You must test the science book and the spelling book separately because they may contain lead!

This basically seems to imply that somehow alchemy works. Non-lead containing item + non-lead containing item= LEAD!

The manufacturer needs to provide a testing certificate to the retailer, which must be available for inspection, should a Consumer Product Safety Administration inspector come in. No certificate, the retailer can’t sell it.

The truly bizarre part is that the new regulations apply retroactively. Even if it was printed 50 years ago and the publisher no longer exists, you need to have a certificate proving it’s not filled with lead. Even if it is the only remaining copy of a rare children’s book worth thousands of dollars and only will ever be handled by collectors, you cannot sell it because you can’t prove it is not filled with lead.

Anything manufactured after November 10th 2008 should have come with a certificate certifying it has been tested for lead. If your distributor didn’t provide one, you need to call and get one. As of Febuary 10th, its in fact illegal for your distributor to sell you a kids’ book without a certificate of lead testing, no matter when it was printed.

Objects without a certification still have to be tested. So those copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows that were printed in 2007 that are still available new at Amazon may have to be destroyed as of February 10th 2009 because they haven’t been tested for lead. (Amazon is taking this seriously and sent a mail to all affiliates asking them to provide the lead testing certificates for all items)

How bad can the punishment be? For selling books? Up to $100,000 PER ITEM and up to five years in jail. It’s also a felony. Get busted, you may lose your right to vote in some states. Even if you can fight it in court, you’ll likely go broke doing so and your local newspaper will carry the headline “Local business selling lead tainted goods”… even though you know they aren’t. Good luck getting them to print the retraction months or years later after that PR disaster.

This includes not just selling, but distribution. So you can’t donate the untested goods to your local library, Good Will, or literacy program. You also can’t sell them to overseas collectors either, as they’re illegal to export. (preventing dumping of truly toxic goods on third world markets is one of the few good portions of this law. Good job on that, bad job on the rest)

This leaves you, the bookseller, with two legal options: store the books indefinitely, hoping regulations change, OR destroy them.

What to do? Write your Congressman. You can look up the mailing info for your Congressman and Senators through and Call them on the phone too! Some of them may have a staffer dedicated to handling inquiries or willing to tell you which of the many addresses will get the mail in your representatives hands fastest.

You can find more info on CPSIA on:

Foreign dealers, this does effect ALL imports, even individual items shipped through the mail. Try writing to your country’s consulate in the US. They cannot directly effect legislation, but can certainly express their concern to government officials in the US.

EDIT: as of 1/8/09 CPSC has issued an exemption for second hand dealers. New books are STILL not exempted, but step in right directionm. (and no guarantee they won’t change their mind again)

Press release on exemption here

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