Thrift Shops Panic as Misguided New Law Bans Old Children’s Books

February 23, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

booksdumpsterA little-known federal law which came into effect on February 10 has banned the sale or distribution of any children’s book made before 1985. Yes, you read that right: It’s now illegal to sell old books which children might touch or read. 

You might be wondering: Why?

Well, according to the law, which is called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, or CPSIA for short, books made before 1985 might contain tiny of amounts of lead in the ink, and kids might chew on the pages and eat the lead. Therefore, old kids’ books are a health hazard.

And it’s not just limited to books: An alarmist article published in the Washington, D.C. City Journal (one of hundreds of similar alarmist articles published across the country) contains this disturbing passage:

Among its other provisions, CPSIA imposed tough new limits on lead in any products intended for use by children aged 12 or under, and made those limits retroactive: that is, goods manufactured before the law passed cannot be sold on the used market (even in garage sales or on eBay) if they don’t conform. The law has hit thrift stores particularly hard, since many children’s products have long included lead-containing (if harmless) components: zippers, snaps, and clasps on garments and backpacks; skateboards, bicycles, and countless other products containing metal alloy; rhinestones and beads in decorations; and so forth. Combine this measure with a new ban (also retroactive) on playthings and child-care articles that contain plastic-softening chemicals known as phthalates, and suddenly tens of millions of commonly encountered children’s items have become unlawful to resell, presumably destined for landfills when their owners discard them. Penalties under the law are strict and can include $100,000 fines and prison time, regardless of whether any child is harmed.

Consequently, some thrift stores have panicked, leading to scenes like the one described in this letter from an reader, reprinted in the City Journal article:

I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed!

While some blogs have speculated that the ban on old books in particular is a thinly veiled attempt at expunging any politically incorrect literature from our children’s consciousness — 1985 being the approximate historical moment when political correctness became nearly universal in kids’ books — a counter-backlash has now emerged of anti-alarmists claiming that the whole thing is overblown, and not to panic. The San Francisco Examiner, for example, just published “Stop! New law doesn’t require book burning,” which poo-poos the whole crisis, saying no one is burning any books.

However, the Examiner is setting up a straw-man argument, because no one’s claiming that the government is burning any books — only that some retailers and citizens are throwing old books away lest they be fined or imprisoned for poisoning children. But even the Examiner concedes at the end of their article,

CPSIA’s major provisions went into effect on February 10. Some used bookstore owners and resellers are worried about their livelihoods, and they have reason to be concerned. They could be forced into expensive testing or curtailing sales for a painfully long time.

No one, however, should be destroying books.

True, no one should be destroying books — but some people apparently are, out of fear.

What do you feel about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008?

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