Emily Sheketoff gives statement during meeting on consumer safety act

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office, gave the following statement during a meeting held at the Consumer Product Safety Commission office today regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA):

“… We serve public, state, school, and academic libraries, plus specialized libraries serving government, commerce, industry, the arts, the armed services, and people in hospitals and institutions.  We share the concerns for child safety that motivated Congress to pass the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, or ‘CPSIA.’  We also share the concern that children continue to have access to books, which are critical to child development and education.

The CPSIA identifies new lead safety levels and corresponding testing requirements on certain types of children’s products, which the Consumer Product Safety Commission has interpreted to include books.  Currently, the Commission is not imposing penalties under the new standards for most books.  The Commission has been presented with evidence by the publishing industry and others that so-called “ordinary books” as manufactured under present standards do not contain lead.  This evidence has been provided so that publishers and distributors of ordinary children’s books might be granted an exemption from the testing requirements in the CPSIA.  Today’s meeting is one in a series of sessions on this topic.

We appreciate that the Commission is carefully considering whether such a testing exemption or other form of safe harbor is consistent with the statute and consistent with children’s safety.  Such an exemption, if warranted, would clarify the manufacturing and distribution process for children’s books going forward.  In addition, an exemption could do a great deal to reduce the uncertainty facing libraries, but only if such an exemption included books already in their collections–that is, if the exemption recognizes that manufacturing standards going back several decades already ensure that books do not, as a rule, contain lead at more than trace, unharmful levels.  In the event that such an exemption is not granted, libraries would be assured that the books they receive from manufacturers going forward are certified to be safe from lead; but libraries would be in an untenable position as to children’s books already on their shelves, which will not have been certified by manufacturers and yet are almost certainly safe.

In other words, the principal concern for libraries actually relates to those books already on our shelves.  We seek clarity from the Consumer Product Safety Commission that the CPSIA does not impose any new obligations on libraries with regard to current volumes, given the small risks involved and the impractical burdens such retroactive obligations would impose on libraries.  In relevant part, the CPSIA imposes new lead standards that become progressively lower over time, and it imposes mandatory testing requirements on certain children’s products, which the Commission has interpreted to include books.  These two requirements go hand in hand, and we seek confirmation that neither provision would apply to books already on library shelves prior to the effective date of these provisions.

First, the CPSIA imposes the new lead levels on products ‘sold’ or ‘distributed’ under the meaning of the Consumer Product Safety Act.  Libraries aren’t in the business of ‘selling’ or ‘distributing’ books within the meaning of the statute.  Moreover, a product that violates the lead levels under the CPSIA is a ‘banned hazardous substance’ under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.  That law prohibits ‘banned hazardous substances’ from being introduced or received in interstate commerce.  Books already sitting on library shelves are not in interstate commerce.  This stands in contrast to a book in a distribution center or on a store shelf, which is still to be offered for sale or otherwise distributed.  A book currently on a library shelf reached its final destination prior to the law taking effect.

It is therefore straightforward that the new federal standards do not extend to library books on a retroactive basis.  Indeed, this is what we have repeatedly been told by Members of Congress, who have assured us that the CPSIA was never intended to disrupt and burden libraries.  And this is not surprising, given that financially strapped libraries–public libraries, school libraries, research libraries to name a few–have nowhere near the resources necessary to conduct tests on all of their existing volumes of books.  To repeat, libraries cannot afford to conduct tests, which may be why the statute only contemplates testing by manufacturers.  The other option for libraries would be to remove all existing children’s volumes–millions of books nationwide–and start over with only manufacturer-tested and certified books.  This is obviously unfathomable:  It would be wasteful, cost prohibitive, and certainly was not intended by Congress.

There is no valid reason for libraries and their patrons to be placed in this no-win situation.  There is little evidence that ordinary children’s books would pose a risk for lead exposure.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees that there is a minimal risk posed by ordinary books and a lead expert we consulted was very dismissive of any potential threat.  Libraries are extremely concerned about children’s safety, and we advise our members to remove any items from the shelves that may pose any threat–due to lead or any other reason.

In summation, we believe a general exemption for ordinary children’s books is appropriate under the CPSIA, but we are not here principally to ask for an exemption of any kind.  Rather, we merely seek assurances, as we have for at least six months, that the Consumer Product Safety Commission reads the CPSIA correctly, such that libraries have no independent liability with regard to books on their shelves prior to the effective dates of the CPSIA’s new lead standards, and no independent obligation to assure testing.  If it does not, then the Commission should certainly use its regulatory authority to avoid the no-win situation for libraries that I’ve described.

The American Library Association would be pleased to work with the Commission and to provide additional information as would be helpful.  Thank you.”

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