Posting may be slower here over the next few days because of the holiday (and comments-moderation may be erratic at best, for which apologies in advance). If you’d like to catch up with CPSIA reading, though, there’s plenty of it:
- Excellent reporting in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last weekend, based on interviews with local people affected by the law, including a maker of kids’ clothing, a doll maker (more), and so forth. Virtually all of them contribute a striking fact, a memorable quote, or both: “Mark Kohlenberg, owner of the Umi children’s shoe company in Grafton, estimates that the required testing will cost his company $200,000 a year. … ‘This law was written one night in Washington when everyone was drunk,’ said a frustrated Peter Reynolds of the Little Toy Co. in Germantown. ‘It’s impossible to read and impossible to enforce.'”
- Before moving on from the state of Wisconsin, let Valerie Jacobsen’s comment be recorded: “Canvassed Janesville, Wisconsin thrift stores March 31. In an entire city of population 60,000 there was one piece of used clothing for a baby of six months or less”. (Further: ShopFloor).
- A report in the Northfield, Minn. paper on the vintage-kids’-books situation contains a line almost too depressing to pass along: “Congressman John Kline responded and said efforts are underway to change the law, but with the focus on larger budget issues he admitted it could be years [emphasis added] before this gets another look.” More: Deputy Headmistress.
- “The Myth of Good Intentions” [James Wilson, DownsizeDC]
- “$1,500 to test one clutch ball that retails for $16.50”: a letter to President Obama [Jill Chuckas of Handmade Toy Alliance at Change.org]
- Rick Woldenberg, running his family’s educational-toy company, remembers himself as the most apolitical person you would want to meet. How’d he turn into a nonstop organizer of the reform effort? [Story of My Life]
- “When I first heard about CPSIA I actually cried. I didn’t see how they could pass something so stupid.” [11-year-old Lizi, at AmendTheCPSIA.com]
- To grasp the immense scale of Congress’s blunder with this law, “follow a blog like Overlawyered“. Thanks! [Hugh Hewitt, The Examiner; and more, including radio questioning of Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and John Ensign (R-Nev.)]
Public domain image from Walter Crane, Baby’s Own Aesop (1887), courtesy Children’s Library.
Last Wednesday’s CPSIA rally at the Capitol drew an overflow crowd of hundreds, with thousands more reportedly watching from around the world via webcast. Many speakers had powerful stories to tell, and cameras from CNN and ABC were on hand to record them; AP mentioned the event in covering the dirtbike-ban story. There is, as you might imagine, no way to upstage a six-year-old motocross champion who declares from the podium, “I promise I won’t eat my dirt bike”.
A few things I learned by attending:
- Ordinary bikes (not the motorized kind) are clearly out of compliance with the law because of the leaded brass in certain components, and have been given no exemption. I’m still wondering why the CPSC directed the motorbike dealers to tarp over their inventory but did not do the same with the ordinary-bike dealers. Earlier here; much more (PDF) in this CPSC submission by Mayer Brown for the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.
- Until I saw their handout leaflet, it hadn’t sunk in that the non-profit and charitable giants in resale, including Goodwill, Salvation Army, Easter Seals, Volunteers of America, and St. Vincent de Paul, have banded together in a Donated Goods Coalition. Good for them, and I hope someone listens.
- Even blogging the subject as much as I have, I’ve somehow said almost nothing about CPSIA’s requirements for batch numbering, labeling and tracking of kids’ products, due to hit later this year. It seems these requirements all by themselves will suffice to wipe out small producers in droves even if the crazy testing requirements can somehow be made sane. A few write-ups touching on the subject: Handmade Toy Alliance (Word document), Kathleen Fasanella/Fashion Incubator, Publisher’s Weekly.
- The rally happened because of the efforts of grass-roots business people around the country, above all Rick Woldenberg of Learning Resources. (The story of the Oregon delegation could stand for that of many others.) Motorbike people were much in evidence. Also present: people from trade associations from regular businesses not been much heard from in the CPSIA furor of recent months, including makers of shoes and footwear, cribs, and even household cleansers, all of whom turned out to have stories to tell. Who knew there was a whole association specializing in the little items you get when you put in the quarter in the vending machine and turn the crank?
- Kids’-book author (and valued commenter) Carol Baicker-McKee was there and gave a superb talk, making effective use of a copy of Orwell’s 1984. Otherwise, however, among groups deeply affected by the legislation, the book and library trades were conspicuous by their absence. I wasn’t the only one who noticed this; so did Publisher’s Weekly.
- I finally got to meet face to face many persons who have been favorably mentioned in these columns over the past three months. I was not surprised to find a whole lot of nice, dedicated people, the sort of people you’d want to be making products for your children to use. You, Reader, would have enjoyed meeting them too.
- Many members of Congress spoke. All were Republican, and a few were pretty good. For better or worse (maybe some of each) there was a minimum of partisanship, with scant mention of the reports that the Democratic House leadership had ordered members not to attend. Several lawmakers minimized the institutional role in the debacle of Congress (which passed the law last year almost unanimously), instead seeking to throw the blame onto the CPSC’s management, which put them surprisingly close to the position of Henry Waxman himself. One GOP member said it was important to be nice to the Democrats and not alienate them, since they held all the power. This may have been good advice, but I was still a little surprised.
- Amid a great deal of talk about unintended consequences, very little was said about there being actual adversaries out there, who know quite well what the law is doing and support it anyway. If more than a word or two was breathed about the roles of Public Citizen, PIRG, or the various members of Congress who are actively hostile on the issue (and not just “needing to be educated”), I missed it. Which meant (it seemed to me) that some of the good people who’d taken the trouble to come to Washington were going to be surprised and perhaps unprepared when they discovered figures out there like, oh, just to pick randomly, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, whose positions are not so much unreflected-on as deeply hostile (and with mysteriously unsourced numbers too).
Speaking of which, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumers Reports, confirmed once again that it falls into the “hostile” and not merely “unreflective/ uninformed” category with this deplorable hatchet job, which provoked a slew of angry, substantive comments; see also blog posts including those of Carol Baicker-McKee and Sheeshamunga.
In a plea for relief from the law, the printing industry reminds us that the world of printed material for children is a big and diverse one: any exemption narrowly drawn to cover bound books alone will expose to the law’s full and often prohibitive rigor a whole world of paper and paperboard wall posters, party invitations, thank-you cards, educational pamphlets and supplements, puzzles, leaflets, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, writing pads, folders and other back-to-school supplies, stickers, origami paper, Sunday school collection envelopes, mazes, score-keeping tallies, tracts, calendars, maps, home-school kits, Valentines, sticky notes, napkins and placemats, trading and playing cards, and much more. (Update: more from PIA).
Relatedly, Valerie Jacobsen narrates “a teacher’s dilemma”:
This teacher said that if she brought her own classroom into compliance, she would lose most of her carefully collected library and many more educational supplies that she finds very helpful. She said, “I guess our whole shelf of microscopes would have to go, too.”
This teacher is working to give her students a rich, well-rounded education and she finds older books very useful in her classroom. Meanwhile, her experience confirms my own: children just don’t eat books.
Jacobsen wonders whether Henry Waxman has talked to many teachers about the law, and whether it would change his mind if he did.
Another group hit by the law, many of whom sell in smallish quantities not well suited to amortize the costs of a testing program, are the suppliers of equipment for school science programs. Is there a “Teachers Against CPSIA” group yet? And if not, why not?
Major story by Jon Hamilton on yesterday’s NPR “Morning Edition”: “A new federal ban on chemical compounds used in rubber duckies and other toys isn’t necessary, say the government scientists who studied the problem.” “Now they tell us,” writes Carter Wood. More from Jonathan Adler @ Volokh and commenters.
Although most coverage of the CPSIA debacle (this site’s included) has focused on the lead rules, the phthalates ban (phthalates are an ingredient often used to make plastic soft and bendable) is also extraordinarily burdensome, for a number of reasons: 1) as readers may recall, a successful lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others forced the last-minute retroactive banning of already-existing playthings and child care items, costing business billions in inventory and other losses; 2) vast numbers of vintage dolls, board games and other existing playthings are noncompliant, which means they cannot legally be resold even at garage sales, let alone thrift or consignment shops, and are marked for landfills instead; 3) obligatory lab testing to prove the non-presence of phthalates in newly made items is even more expensive than testing to prove the non-presence of lead. The phthalate ban is also an important contributor to the burden of the law on the apparel industry (the ingredient has often been used in screen printing on t-shirts and similar items) and books (“book-plus” items with play value often have plastic components). AmendTheCPSIA.com has reprinted a letter from Robert Dawson of Good Times Inc., an amusement maker.
Earlier coverage: Feb. 6 (NRDC and allies win court case on retroactivity); Feb. 7 (various points, including Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s vow that his office will “take whatever steps are necessary [emphasis added] to ensure this phthalate ban is enforced”); Feb. 12 (what ingredients in playthings are going to replace phthalates, and are those ingredients going to be more safe or less?); Mar. 4 (vintage dolls); Mar. 11 (California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were particularly identified with pushing the phthalates ban to enactment).
P.S. Environmentalists disputing the NPR coverage: Jennifer & Jeremiah @ ZRecommends, Jennifer Taggart (The Smart Mama) in NPR comments. And Sacramento attorney Anthony Caso has a backgrounder for the Washington Legal Foundation (PDF) with more about the CPSC, the NRDC, and maneuvering on phthalates.
- We all know that politicians’ sententious pronouncements about the needs of the poor often ring hollow. But are our elected officials truly unaware of the role thrift shops play in the lives of those trying to raise families with no margin of financial safety? Valerie Jacobsen and Deputy Headmistress have both blogged movingly on the subject, and the latter is back today with a must-read post recalling the morning when her own family unexpectedly expanded through adoption overnight from three children to five:
We had no clothes for them, no beds, no presents; nothing was in readiness for them, except our hearts (and even those needed some sprucing up). They came on a Friday. We went shopping on a Saturday. Where did we go shopping? Thrift shops, of course. We had an immediate and urgent need for clothing, toys, and bedding for two new children, and we lived on an enlisted man’s salary. It was only two weeks before Christmas. The thrift shop enabled us to fill the gap between our income and our needs.
Now families that rely on thrift stores are in trouble from coast to coast: Salem and Marblehead, Mass. (“Throwing away perfectly good clothing”); Nantucket, Mass. (imagine being a landscaper or laundry person trying to raise a kid on that expensive island); Herkimer, N.Y. (“new motto, ‘When in doubt, throw it out'”); Beaver County, Pa.; Imperial, Neb.; Denver, Colo.; San Luis Obispo, Calif. (“I say, ‘Just try to pass the toys down through your family or give them to friends,’”); The Garden Island (Kauai, Hawaii)(via CLC and CPSIA). Some background from NARTS (National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops), which is doing a CPSIA Impact Survey of its members.
- The Wall Street Journal editorializes about the law again today, aiming its main attack at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who “won’t admit a mistake and fix the law“.
- Quite the video on the minibike ban, with youth road racing champion Josh Serne, at AmendTheCPSIA.com. Amateur MX has photos from the Malcolm Smith rally. More powersports coverage: Rochester area, N.Y.; Albany/Hudson Valley, N.Y.; McHenry County, Ill.; Associated Press.
- James Leroy Wilson at DownsizeDC: “What is Congress doing about it? Canceling hearings.” And Amy Ridenour, National Center: “Outrage of the Day: Waxman Drags Feet on Needed CPSIA Reform”.
- “It’s on the books, and that’s the problem for libraries across North Texas,” reported Dallas’s CBS 11 earlier this month (via Rick Woldenberg). Per Fox Albany, the Albany Public Library and the library in suburban Guilderland each estimate that they would have to discard around 10,000 older children’s books if an exemption is not made available. Guilderland library director Barbara Nichols Randall says her institution on average weeds out about 1,600 books a year on average currently, which of course does not mean that they exclusively target the oldest books for weeding. Albany library director Timothy Burke foresees the results at his library as “10,000 fewer books for kids to use”.
- Carter Wood at ShopFloor thinks what’s happening with vintage books is reenacting the story of the Velveteen Rabbit:
And so the little Rabbit was put into a sack with the old picture-books and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire, only the gardener was too busy just then to attend to it. He had the potatoes to dig and the green peas to gather, but next morning he promised to come quite early and burn the whole lot.
- Candy Corn Studios makes an important point: “Children have access to dozens of small items that were never intended for children.” If grandpa takes the kids out fishing, there’s no law (yet) forcing him to keep the lead sinkers in his tackle kit under lock and key. Meanwhile, purely notional risks that have never been linked to any real-world instances of poisoning are used as the excuse for turning real people’s lives compulsorily upside down.
- Attorneys Michael B. Goldsmith and Jay L. Silverberg of Sills Cummis: “No legislation in recent memory has engendered more confusion and consternation than the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008… There continues to be tremendous disruption, confusion and concern in a variety of industries affected by the CPSIA.” Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a long-time non-favorite at this site, thinks the main problem with the law is that it’s not being enforced enthusiastically enough.
- And don’t forget the rally in Washington Wednesday (buttons and banners, list of rally speakers, including many familiar from this space).
As Charles Henry and Carter Wood observe, Tuesday’s Washington Post article on the fate of vintage books is another sign that the CPSIA debacle is gradually edging into the attention zone of even the more highly placed members of the press. Florida’s St. Petersburg Times also covered the book/library angle over the weekend, following earlier coverage by the Associated Press Mar. 17, and before that by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Guardian (U.K.), Cincinnati Enquirer and elsewhere. (Other aspects of the law, similarly, have won sporadic rather than sustained attention at individual large papers, and none have yet broken through to the print columns of The Deaf Lady and thereby reached those who rely on her for their news agenda.)
If nothing else, the Washington Post story should lay to rest the still sometimes heard notion that no one is talking about banning many of these books or that everyone somehow favors broadly exempting vintage books, with the only real question being how to get there. Reporter Michael Birnbaum interviewed Columbia public health specialist David Rosner, known as a high-profile lead hawk and critic of any toleration of nonzero exposure risks (and also a recurring expert witness for plaintiff’s lawyers in lead litigation, in which role he puts in a cameo in this fine 2007 Joe Nocera column in, of all places, the NYT). Rosner quite unmistakably does not want older books exempted as a general matter and does want government to intervene against those that have detectable, even if infinitesimal, levels of lead in their ink. He dismisses as ignorant — unacquainted with “the latest science” — parents and booksellers who object that they grew up with these books, they turned out okay, etc. (In fact, “latest science” or no, scientists have by no means joined in the consensus Rosner aims to suggest; hence the remarks from Centers for Disease Control spokesman Jay Dempsey the other day that “On a scale of one to 10, this is like a 0.5 level of concern“).
Birnbaum also interviews a second high-profile lead hawk, Johns Hopkins public health professor and longtime regulatory activist Ellen Silbergeld, who takes a somewhat contrasting view more akin to CDC’s (dismissing the book issue as “very clearly not a high priority” in protecting children). But that’s not all: Silbergeld appears to associate herself with (otherwise unnamed) critics who “accuse the safety commission of trying to undermine the law by stirring up popular backlash”, calling the agency’s continued inability to resolve the issue “absurd” and “disingenuous”. The suggestion here, it would seem, is that the CPSC is purposefully sabotaging the law by accommodating, even in part and inconsistently, the views of one of its own two commissioners, Thomas Moore, who famously called for some share of older books to be “sequestered” — not to mention outsiders like Rosner whose views appear to follow similar lines. So now we’re apparently meant to go on a hunt for imagined wreckers and saboteurs at the agency, presumably including its key career staff.
Meanwhile, and fortunately, discussion continues among persons who care passionately about old books for their own sake and don’t want to see them lost. Well-known author Neil Gaiman remarked on the story on Twitter (“So wrong, so wrong, so utterly, utterly wrong“) which was passed along (“retweeted”) by hundreds of his readers and fans; many blog posts and discussions resulted. David Niall Wilson (“Glimpses Into an Overactive Mind”) contributed two passionate posts (“This idiocy has to be stopped”.) The popular James Lileks, whose eponymous site is one of the most consistently diverting in American journalism, did a short column for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and the subject erupted in comments at Boing Boing. Some other discussions, all worth reading: Tim & Zodi (via Deputy Headmistress), Michael Lieberman at Book Patrol (also Wessel & Lieberman), Jennifer at Series Books for Girls (“this lead thing has not gone away. Don’t think for a minute that it has”), Vivian Zabel, Le Mars, Iowa, Daily Sentinel, Aria Nadii/Wild Muse Notes.
And don’t forget the rally next Wednesday morning, April 1, in Washington, and covered by, among other places, Apparel News. Registration can be accomplished here. And Lahle Wolfe at About.com Women in Business Blog offers six (other) ways to protest the law.
Public domain images: Yankee Mother Goose (1902), illustrator Ella S. Brison, courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.
It’s been a day of dramatic developments on the CPSIA-and-libraries front. An Associated Press article out yesterday quoted Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as officially urging the nation’s libraries to remove from their shelves children’s books printed before 1986 until more is known about their possible dangers from lead in their inks, dyes and pigments:
Until the testing is done, the nation’s more than 116,000 public and school libraries “should take steps to ensure that the children aren’t accessing those books,” Wolfson said. “Steps can be taken to put them in an area on hold until the Consumer Product Safety Commission can give further guidance.”
Within the day, however, commission chief of staff Joe Martyak said that Wolfson had “misspoke”, and that the commission has neither concluded that the books might be dangerous nor recommended that libraries take any action. An early version of the AP story is here, with the Wolfson quote, and a later version here, for purposes of comparison.
It’s not as if Wolfson was making things up here. As readers will recall, one of the two CPSC commissioners, Thomas Moore, called weeks ago for some undefinedly large share of old books to be “sequestered” from children for the time being. However, the full commission has left the issue up in the air rather than endorsing Moore’s view.
The AP also turns to Jay Dempsey, a health communications specialist at the Center for Disease Control, a federal agency that I suspect knows a great deal more than does the CPSC about the public health problem of children’s lead poisoning. Dempsey does not rate highly the danger that a child will ingest lead from books: “on a scale of one to 10, this is like a 0.5 level of concern.”
I’m also puzzled by the following quote in the AP piece:
Also, the lead [in some older books] is contained only in the type, not in the illustrations, according to Allan Adler, vice president for legal and governmental affairs for the Association of American Publishers.
That’s not what I’ve heard; I’ve heard more often of the illustrations flunking than of the type flunking when books are subjected to x-ray fluorescence tests.
The AP article, which is getting wide national pickup, also reveals that the American Library Association knows of only two libraries that have sequestered such volumes — we’ve reported on one — and that both ceased the practice at ALA’s urging. It also links to an overview of the (current) book manufacturing process and its CPSIA implications, prepared by manufacturers of children’s books. It does not discuss the issue of books with nonpaper elements published between 1985 and today, although this too could pose enormous compliance problems given libraries’ large holdings of such books.
News buffs may be interested to observe that the new Associated Press story is out of Jefferson City, Missouri — not Washington, D.C., not New York City — and that it carries the byline of Lee Logan, whose byline can also be found on the excellent (Missouri-focused) AP story about the CPSIA minibike ban a week and a half ago. The AP has been notable for snoozing through most of the national CPSIA story over the past three months, but it sounds as if it may have one reporter who understands its importance.
Incidentally, a number of vaguely well-meaning associations and nonprofits (as well as many of a sharper ideological tint) signed on to endorse the CPSIA in its rush to passage last year. Among the former group, as Deputy Headmistress points out, was the American Library Association itself — sort of like Colonel Sanders getting an endorsement from the chickens. I wonder whether anyone has asked the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Law Libraries, or Circumpolar Conservation Union whether anything about CPSIA’s implementation has caused them to rethink their support. I’m still trying to figure out what CPSIA has to do with law libraries or circumpolar conservation in the first place, except insofar as it causes more people to hire lawyers and want to run away to the North Pole.
P.S. In comments, Carol Baicker-McKee says she “spoke with Joe Martyak, the CPSC chief of staff, yesterday, and while he did not mention ‘sequestering’ books, he did tell me that there is considerable legal precedent for seeing libraries as ‘distributors in commerce’ so the agency definitely considers them to be subject to CPSIA.” More from Valerie Jacobsen: “[Unlike one librarian quoted in the story,] I don’t see many libraries with only a few pre-1985 children’s books. While library copies of picture books do tend to wear out early, chapter books for children ages 8-12 typically endure quite well.”
Public domain graphic: Edith Brown, ChildrensLibrary.org via Jessica Palmer.
This will be widely read. For new visitors, here are our coverage of CPSIA and books, with many updates (but nothing changing the story’s essentials) since my City Journal article appeared last month; this site’s general CPSIA coverage; how Snopes dropped the ball (if in a hurry, skip to Feb. 15; Snopes has since silently removed some but not all of the misleading commentary of which readers complained); and coverage of the law’s appalling effects in such areas as thrift stores, youth motorcycles, ballpoint pens, and (so far with many of the worst effects postponed) toys, apparel, and libraries.
Carol Baicker-McKee is stunned to find that line appearing as part of a slide presentation for staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on enforcement of CPSIA (for those just catching up, CPSC’s guidelines last month recommend that resellers discard pre-1985 kids’ books unless the books are put through expensive testing.) It has her “ready to move to Australia. Or, better yet, ready to make Congress move to Australia and let the country start fresh.” Read the whole thing. More: Esther at Reader’s Loft.