CPSIA chronicles, February 13

by Walter Olson on February 13, 2009

Coping with strong winds

  • I’ve got a new opinion piece just up at City Journal on the pressure on thrift stores, inexpensive used-book dealers and other resellers to trash most of their stocks of pre-1985 children’s literature. Some of the ground it covers will be familiar to those who read Tuesday’s post at this site, as well as yesterday’s mention of CPSC commissioner Thomas Moore’s call last week (PDF) for some undefinedly large share of pre-1985 books to be “sequestered” until more is known about their dangers.

  • Several bloggers have pointed to this post at Semicolon Blog which reminds us that many post-1985 children’s books are also at risk of destruction, in particular those enhanced with decorative or amusement-providing elements in materials other than paper:

    My daughter works in a used bookstore. TODAY they pulled all the books from the children’s section that had any kind of metal or plastic or toy-like attachment, spiral bindings, balls or things attached, board books, anything that might be targeted under this law, and they very quietly trashed them all. I say “very quietly” because the bookstore had a meeting with employees and told them to be careful not to start a panic. If anyone asked what they were doing they were told to say that they were “rearranging their inventory.” No one was allowed to tell anyone about the new law, and no one was allowed to take any of the doomed-for-destruction books home or give them away.

    It should be noted that completely plain board books would be probably considered “ordinary” and thus safe to resell under the CPSC’s guidelines so long as they contain no special texturized elements such as rubber, foil, nubbly synthetic pretend-dinosaur-skin, genuine stink bugs encased in clear plastic, etc., etc.

    A lot of blogs have begun to notice the kids’ book issue, and I may round up highlights at some point. For now, start with Deputy Headmistress at Common Room;

  • Thanks to Esther of Design Loft for confirming something of which I’ve heard rumors for a while, namely that CPSIA bans ballpoint pens when designed or marketed for persons under 12, because of the irreducible minimum of lead in the mechanisms. Giving the kids adult ballpoint pens is still okay, but shipments of adult pens to, say, middle schools are at the very least under a legal cloud, and it is reasonably clear that pens with kid-oriented decorations on them have become unlawful to sell unless the decorations can be somehow expunged to do away with the kid appeal. A trade group called WIMA, the Writing Implement Manufacturers Association, is now petitioning for an exemption (PDF). I see that Deputy Headmistress is now on this in her usual thorough way;
  • Virginia Postrel’s superb piece at her Dynamist blog got a lot of attention, including links from leading bloggers Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan. She’s followed up with second and third posts, the latter of which asks:

    Why stop with products “primarily” for kids? Why not test everything a kid might encounter, from sofa cushions to bathroom mirrors?

    But maybe I shouldn’t say that. Public Citizen might get ideas.

  • More from Deputy Headmistress: “FedEx now requires a Certificate of Conformity as required by the CPSIA before they will accept any imported products,” with a roundup on motorcycles, substitute chemicals, and other topics. And I predict Public Citizen is going to rue the day it ever got the D.H.Mrs. on its case with its misrepresentations about the law;
  • Journalist Radley Balko blogs on the law at The Agitator (and also has kind words for my coverage, for which thanks). And Katherine Mangu-Ward reveals that she’s going to have an article on the law in an upcoming issue of Reason;
  • Who knew that the New York Times was so bad at covering the problems of the book, design and garment trades, and so good at covering crises in the world of motorcycles? But the proof continues;
  • Reader Adam L., fresh from this thread at PhillyBlog, writes:

    I was discussing your City Journal article with someone and
    they pointed out this Snopes article, which would seem to contradict
    yours. I am curious about your view.

    To which I wrote back:

    Snopes botched it. It’s true there was an erroneous rumor going around a few weeks ago that resellers would be legally required to do lead testing. The CPSC and others corrected this and pointed out that although resellers would be liable for selling anything over the lead ppm limit, they were not legally obliged to test, that is, they could take their chances. Hence Snopes is literally correct when it points out testing is not required, but flatly misses the wider story, which is that fear of liability is by no means an imaginary phenomenon since many older items (including some books) do flunk the new standards, even if posing no material risk to kids, and reliance on CPSC enforcement forbearance is chancy, especially since the CPSC is not the only source of enforcement for the law.

    Many people have written to Snopes in recent weeks asking them to correct their item, but they have done nothing.

    And then I pointed him to coverage at this site and elsewhere on thrift stores’ removal of books and other merchandise that pose no risk to kids but that cannot readily be known to comply with the law.

    I keep waiting for Snopes to correct, and they keep not doing so, even after the past week’s coverage of convulsions in the thrift store world. This is highly damaging because so many writers and editors check Snopes as a quick way to dismiss false alarms — I’ve done so myself many times, though I am less inclined to do so again. Is it time for someone to set up a “Shame on Snopes” page? (More: reader Meredith Wright wrote to Snopes and got a highly unsatisfactory response, reprinted in comments below);

  • Wisconsin bookseller Valerie Jacobsen charges Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) with telling a “goofy whopper” about the safety problems that led up to the law’s passage;
  • Jacobsen also correctly pinpoints one of the key questions in the unfolding political struggle under CPSIA: will there be a hearing in Washington around which public and media interest might crystallize, and if so will it be under the full control of those who want to keep the law as it is, or will dissenting voices be heard too? She writes:

    Henry Waxman, chairman of the [House] Committee on Energy & Commerce and Bobby Rush, chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, don’t want any reasonable amendment and are refusing to allow any discussion.

    They don’t want more hearings. They don’t want more talk. They want compliance. Waxman and Rush are the original sponsors of CPSIA, so you can see why they don’t want the damage they’ve caused to go on the record.

  • Attorney Sandra Ezell, Bowman & Brooke: “There are a lot of excellent products and excellent companies” that won’t survive CPSIA even though “they basically had no dog in the fight”. [Inside Counsel]

Public domain illustration: Ruth Mary Hallock, Grandma’s Graphics.

{ 5 trackbacks }

Simple Justice
02.14.09 at 8:08 am
CPSIA — Here in the Bonny Glen
02.14.09 at 11:20 am
CPSIA: “Books, left out at the curb…”
02.14.09 at 12:47 pm
Snopes and CPSIA
02.15.09 at 1:01 am
CPSIA chronicles, February 27
03.14.09 at 10:14 am

{ 9 comments }

1 Kathleen 02.13.09 at 3:10 pm

Is it time for someone to set up a “Shame on Snopes” page?

Actually, right after we started getting their emails refusing to amend, for the heck of it, I searched for a url: SnopesIsWrong.com and imagine that, it was available! “Was” is the operative phrase here, it’s not anymore. However, if you or anyone wants to write the copy for it, I am quite certain I can arrange to have it posted and give whoever all the credit.

2 Tristan Benz 02.13.09 at 3:25 pm

A women’s entreprenurial network to which I belong is now asking for help with confusing info – so, as I continue to do (via my website, emails, twitter, blog, you name it) is point them in your direction.

This is the best coverage / roundup. Every time I contemplate changing the bold message on my homepage I read another piece like this and leave it up – it needs to be said – people need to hear the truth, whether or not it “feels good.” It may be good politics for Waxman, etc. but it certainly isn’t good business for America.

FYI – I heard an NPR piece this AM – our economy is our greatest concern – other nations blaming us for the world economic crisis and, if unresolved, civil unrest is likely only to heat up here and around the world. A portion of the coverage this AM had a sound bite of a Friday prayer session in Iran where folks regularly chant “death to America” (I don’t make the news – just pass it along).

I seriusly think it’s time our legislators take more care in hearing the people – CPSIA negatively impacts our economy (incl. companies that import to the US) at a time when it apparently poses a recognized and growing threat to our well being.

While it’s easy enough to get caught up in the limits of how CPSIA effects small businesses and resellers, the bigger picture LOOMS. It is all connected. We are watching our economy go down, our rights slip through our fingers and we are standing around fighting when we should be UNITING.

There is an old African proverb that says something like – two men in a burning building do not stand to argue. We can talk ’till we’re blue in the face – but what are we going to do to contribute, as a nation UNITED, to ensuring our politicians respond to OUR interests here?

Another day of deep contemplations…the clock keeps ticking.

Thanks again for the super informative articles.
Tristan Benz
Maiden America

3 Shingler 02.13.09 at 6:41 pm

I have been trying to imagine what could be used for fasteners on a child’s clothing if you cannot use snaps, zippers or plastic and metal buttons. What else has been used?
- What is the phthalate content of Velcro?
- You cannot use wood buttons, they were replaced with plastic and metal buttons because wood buttons sometimes split.
- Would it be okay to return to mother-of-pearl buttons? May we over fish for buttons?
- How about hooks? Oh, those use metal too.
- Laces? If they can tie their shoes with laces, can they tie the rest of their clothes on too? Or is that a choking hazard? Will the kids loose fingers by wrapping the free ends, repeatedly, around their digits and watching them change color during boring classes?
- Magnets? What is today’s fad with magnets and magnetic fields? Does popular culture think magnetic fields cure or cause cancer in winter 2009? Oh, that’s right, magnets = metal too.

I hope kids like frog closures. I can see a whole lot of youngsters showing off their buttons and zippers on their thirteenth Birthdays. At this point I imagine kids wearing “contraband closures” to look, not just cool, but the normal of yesteryear.

Remember growing up hearing how Soviet kids wanted our blue jeans? We were so lucky and cool to have our cheap blue jeans? Russia? You got back.

On the bright side, it will be easier for the ticket sellers to keep them out of the PG-13 rated movies.

4 Cecilia Leibovitz 02.13.09 at 8:47 pm

Today I noticed a small box of books that had been left out at the curb of a thrift shop here in Vermont. All but two were children’s books printed prior to 1985.

5 kat 02.14.09 at 11:31 am

I assume that no one will be selling twin size mattresses or box springs without the required testing. While they may not be marketed just for children under 12, it seems pretty obvious that the vast majority are purchased for use by children under 12–and they spend far more time in close proximity to their mattresses than they do to any particular toy or book. Of course, few children are allowed to chew the inside of their mattresses or box springs–but that’s not the test.

6 bj 02.14.09 at 7:36 pm

Who determines whether an item is marketed/intended for children under 12?

It doesn’t seem like retailers/manufacturers get to make that disticntion because they can’t rebrand all of their old kids books as “collectible” to be safe.

Do the CPSC/state AG’s get to make that call?

7 Walter Olson 02.15.09 at 12:03 am

Correspondent Meredith Wright reports that she wrote to Snopes and got a response:

Comment (MW): First of all, I LOVE your website, and usually find it well-sourced. But your inboxer article on CPSIA is just incorrect. CPSIA is a poorly written law (and apparently a poorly READ law – most of the representatives and senators who voted for it never bothered to read it – kind of like the PATRIOT Act), but it IS going to impact a LOT of people who shouldn’t have to suffer, mostly small business owners and LIBRARIES.

Go to Overlawyered.com and check it all out. I have no ax to grind here
(although my representative is Waxman, one of the morons who wrote this stupid bill) and just want you to take a look at the other side of the
issue. At the very least, your article should be labeled “undetermined” not “false.”

Kind regards,
Meredith Wright

And the response:

From: snopes.com [email redacted]
Subject: Re: snopes.com: Page Comment
To: Meredith Wright [email redacted]
Date: Friday, February 13, 2009, 6:43 PM

It’s covered in our FAQ at http://www.snopes.com/info/faq.asp

Many of the texts we discuss contain a mixture of truth, falsity, and exaggeration which cannot be accurately described by a single “True” or “False” rating. Therefore, an item’s status is generally based upon the single most important aspect of the text under discussion, which is summarized in the statement made after the “Claim:” heading at the top of the page. It is important to make note of the wording of that claim, since that is the statement to which the status applies.

Urban Legends Reference Pages
http://www.snopes.com

* * *

So [this is W.O., editorializing, now, not Snopes or Wright] it doesn’t matter how often people read the Snopes item and conclude that the alarms over resellers and CPSIA are unfounded, hysteria, far-fetched, etc. The posting was narrowly accurate when it came to refuting one particular false sub-rumor, and so there’s no need to apologize for, let alone correct, the dismissive tone and poorly informed opinionizing on prospects for enforcement that led many readers into a wider and more serious error, namely thinking that children’s resellers who don’t “blatantly take a cavalier attitude” about customer safety would have no trouble living with the law’s requirements. If you believed Snopes on that, you would have been grossly unprepared for the convulsions in the children’s resale business that began making headlines in recent days.

Incidentally, for those keeping score, the Snopes entry gets other facts about the law wrong too. For example, it announces that “children’s products made after February 10, 2009″ face lead certification requirements. This was not true either before or after the CPSC’s 11th-hour stay of certification enforcement: it was and is the date of sale or distribution, not of manufacture, that triggers the rule. A small maker or dealer relying on the Snopes piece might have concluded that its pre-2/10 stocks were not affected by the certification controversy — big, big mistake.

8 Ron Miller 02.15.09 at 2:55 pm

I don’t think there are legal issues related to selling old children’s books. But my goodness, as a parent of small children, some of these old children’s books are stunningly inappropriate on a variety of different levels.

9 Matt Monell 02.16.09 at 2:48 pm

Very interesting information contained on your website and much more widespread then I had originally feared.

I work for a doll distributor with a thirty year history of manufacturing and importing collectible and play doll and doll accessories. We have always dedicated ourselves to providing products safe for children and have utilized an independent 3rd party for all of our product testing.

The point I wish to make is in regard to the three specific phthalates “prohibited in concentrations of more than 0.1% pending further study and review”.

Three phthalates, DEHP, DBP and BBP, are considered permanently banned but DINP, DIDP and DnOP are only prohibited pending further study. It is due to those 3 phthalates that we may have to discard a significant portion of inventory of product manufactured and tested to the standard in place at the time.

Is there any information out there that discusses why these phthalates are being treated differently? If there isn’t enough information to outright ban the phthalates warranting additional review, why include them in the CPSIA? How is the review of these phthalates to be completed and over what time period?

Thanks

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