Book burning on Feb. 10th 2009 due to CPSIA

Book in FlamesThe 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

36 thoughts on “Book burning on Feb. 10th 2009 due to CPSIA”

  1. Thanks for this blog entry. We need more public awareness of the impact of CPSIA on books. I would be interested to know how public libraries and schools are directly impacted…other than higher prices for books in the future. Can libraries loan out books that haven’t been tested? I am assuming they cannot accept new donations that do not come with certificates. Please join the discussion at we need more book voices there and with Congress.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I’m including a link to it in an email going out to my customers and the CPSIA Facebook group this morning.

    Cecilia Leibovitz

  3. Are we really only a month away from mandated book destruction in the USA? I’m not sure what is scarier, this legislation or the fact that it is being implemented with no resistance from the public.

    I’m not once who traditional falls into the cognitive dissonance trap, but is it at all possible that the interpretation, as represented in this blog post, is an overreaction or a misinterpretation of the legislation’s intent?

    If anyone has a copy of the referenced letter by Amazon, I would certainly appreciate posting it to the web and publishing a link to the letter here. I would like to view this letter.

    Thank you for this post.

  4. This is absolutely bizarre. Government regulations are so darn mind boggling sometimes. Maybe booksellers should ask for a bailout due to the hardship this rule will cause their business – that might catch some attention. I can see the press release now

  5. There’s something else you can do: Petition the CSPC to exempt books (and other products) and relevant manufacturing processes from this law and subsequent regulations. Petitioning the commission is MUCH more effective than writing to your member of congress. Federal commissions and agencies must respond to every public petition and comment.

    Additionally, the law sets up a good basis for exemptions, right in the first part – section (b): Exclusion of Certain Materials Or Products. Here it is exactly:

    may, by regulation, exclude a specific product or material from the prohibition in subsection (a) if the Commission, after notice and a hearing, determines on the basis of the best-available, objective, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence that lead in such
    product or material will neither-
    (A) result in the absorption of any lead into the human
    body, taking into account normal and reasonably foreseeable use and abuse of such product by a child, including swallowing, mouthing, breaking, or other children’s activities, and the aging of the product; nor
    (B) have any other adverse impact on public health
    or safety.

    The law is docketed under OSHA-2008-0032 (search in

    Book sellers, manufacturers, and interested citizens should petition the CPSC (and OSHA?) for exemption from this regulation, and then get their supporters to comment on the petition.

    Bottom line: The law is a start. CPSC should modify regulations in accordance with any forthcoming public petitions.

    Also: There are special protections for small businesses under federal law. The Regulatory Flexibility Act requires that all proposed regulations assess what their impact will be on small businesses. If it will be significant, the regulators have to meet with a panel of small businesspeople to determine how the impact can be lessened. So their concerns can carry a lot of weight in the final rule.

    /not a lawyer

  6. This is a great protest piece and needs to be publicized. Please convert it into an email and send it to all the staffers on the House and Senate Committees responsible for the CPSIA. I hope you will also send it as a letter to your Congressman and Senators. The instructions for this type of campaign is found on our website You could also send in a shorter version as a letter to the editor to national publications or as an Op-Ed piece. Your points are too important to be left unheard. Thanks for posting.

    Rick Woldenberg

  7. If you have a used book store could you get away with not selling to anyone under 13 or allowing anyone under 13 into your store?
    Doesn’t this law put all used book stores out of business?

  8. To Jim:
    No, it prevents sale and distribution of ITEMS intended for people 12 and under, or PERCEIVED as for them. You can’t sell any children’s item, even to adults. However, you can still sell adult items to children.

    The logic here is absolutely convoluted.

    Distribution also means you cannot donate the items.

  9. How/will the affect the US library system. Can we borrow but no buy/sell?
    Just another way for the government to assume they make better choices than parents do. Yes, thank you for watching to make sure my kids don’t eat leaded book (sarcasm added of course).

  10. Well, this makes me really worried. I work at a public library, and I have no idea how this will affect my library. Are we going out of business next month? This is absolutely ridiculous.

    Stupid, stupid lawmakers. Can they not see past the end of their noses?!!


  11. Please note that if you are employed as a librarian at a public library, there’s no need for concern about the CPSIA. All librarians can become certified “Lead Offense Screening Technicians” (LOST), provided they complete the appropriate government-approved coursework, pass the requisite government-administered test(s), and pay the required governmental fees (which include a one-time registration fee, a certificate delivery fee, an annual status maintenance fee, plus seminar and study material fees for annual Continuing LOST Education programs).

    Interested librarians should take comfort in the fact that their out-of-pocket costs associated with pursuing and maintaining their LOST certification may be more than offset by potential pay increases that can accompany their LOST certification.

  12. I sent an email to the admin at the Free Library Philadelphia blog because they have a post on celebrating banned books week I mentioned this blog post and asked them to mention it or do their own write up. I got an email back stating that my message would be passed along to the people who are in control of the blog. Maybe they can help out.

    Here is a link to their site. Up in the corner there is a “contact us” link.

  13. Shakes head… Laughs at Roger’s comment… Wonder’s why he quit drinking…

    This would make more sense with a few shots of whiskey coursing through my system. Perhaps the legislators had already had a few when they approved this nonsense.

    • Hi Paul, Thanks for coming by. What do you think of our new design?
      If you are interested in joining our writers group you are more than welcome to (only 2 posts per month to qualify).

      We’ve gone from a couple hundred visitors/day to around 2000! Things are coming along nicely after my break.

  14. This would affect EBay sales then as well. I love the old Sci-Fi pulps from the 50’s but those publishing companies are mostly out of business now. Guess I better stock up on my missing issues before it’s illegal to sell them.

    This is exactly why our government is in shambles and a real change is needed now more than ever. Lawmakers just simply cannot think beyond the words on a piece of paper given to them (hope the paper is lead free for their sake). Maybe it’s time for new lawmakers. That or a revolution.

  15. The regulations DO NOT apply retroactively, it only applies to products manufactured after Feb 10th and the testing is only required by importers or manufacturers. Also, they are going to exempt all materials that are not scientifically known to contain lead (like wood, apper, cotton, leather, etc.).

  16. I’m just wondering what about yard sales, garage sales,flea markets, etc. most of the books I bought my son many yrs ago were from yard sales,etc. and we wonder why our country is in such a pickle. idiots in DC….

  17. We are all breathing a sigh of relief about the clothing, now they need to amend the book portion as well as handmade goods. Thanks for the post.

  18. I saw on the evening news (01-08-09) that it isn’t only books. Anything that was made for kids is included. Toys, clothing. The works. I can see using less chemicals for children’s items in the future, but items already made should not be banned. How toxic can my 66 year old teddy bear possibly be?

  19. This is pretty disturbing. I did notice that at the link you provided part of the act says: “Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.”

    So, you really could still donate to a library etc, couldn’t you?

  20. Re: Eddie
    Yes, still retroactively applied to NEW merchandise in warehouses that has not been tested. New exemption for thrifts only applies to USED items.
    As to the clothes, only undyed cotton has been exempted so far. As soon as you add dye, buttons, zippers, velcro, etc, you have to test it again.

    Meanwhile the American Library Assoication has weighed in:

    There’s a broken link in that article to the supporting evidence sent along. Correct link is:

  21. RE: Jen

    Yes, the new ruling that came out 1/9/09 means you COULD now donate to a thrift or library sale again. I have been adding info to the original post, but have not editted original text. Otherwise it makes some of the comments confusing because they’re responding to no longer available info.

    (hey, Bruce, could we get comment threading? this would make replies WAY easier)

  22. Waaaaa. I’m the author of seven books for the 8-12 set, and the first we heard about this was Wednesday when the e-mail came out from

    I have not been able to find out what we need to do or the cost of doing it, especially to meet the absurd deadlines. Even the change from rabbit ears to digital TV had a year’s notice and now a delay.

    How many children’s bookstores will this put out of business, plus publishers? I have e-mailed everyone I can think of in government and the CPSC with not a single response. Is there some mass action that can be taken to get the attention of those who can delay the law until it’s implications can be studied?

    Will children’s books go on the black market and bookstores go underground?

    Is there pressure being put on from professional associations?

    And, what’s to keep an unsupervised toddler to chew his way through the family, untested-for-lead Bible or dictionary?

    I’ll bet the nation’s enemies will enjoy this one as we American falls back into the Dark Ages.

    Linda Salisbury

  23. Thanks for the very informative post! I agree that lead is dangerous and that it does cause health-related problems. I never would have guessed, however, that someone would ever consider books to contain any lead. Our children do need to be protected, however, let’s keep things real and not go overboard. Again, thanks for the info!

  24. Thanks for the information this surely is a problem . Books with high lead content can be really a health hazard is really unbelievable.I hope our government is also taking measures to protect us from these health hazards.

  25. CPSIA is really stupid. My wife loves to shop online. It’s tough on me because she spends so much. But that besides the point. Lots of her online stores that she loves to shop at are now going out of business because of the CPSIA. I think consumers should have the choice on what to buy. Maybe everything we buy should have a disclaimer stating if it has been tested or not.

  26. I’m all for protecting kids against the dangers of lead, but it just seems stupid if all the products going in are already tested where is the lead going to come from. Maybe they have hit on a new cheaper method of manufacturing lead, a bi product of children’s book manufacturing.

    I’ve not heard of this law comping into the UK so maybe Amazon will transfer its stock to sell in Europe before the deadline comes in.

  27. As yet, we haven’t seen anyone specify (or even discuss) exactly how a publisher/printer will “issue a certification” that their products comply with the CPSIA requirements.

    Hopefully, that won’t become a paperwork nightmare in and of itself for us retailers of books. A separate “certificate document”, issued for each “unit” of books – which would have to be filed and maintained ad infinitum – would eventually result in a monstrously complex and hopelessly burdensome certificate-record/filing/retrieval requirement.

    A much more sensible way to issue such a certification would be for the publisher to simply print the certification on the inside and as part of the book itself.

    In case we missed it, has anyone else talked about that?

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