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January 29, 2009 3:55 am

Libraries leery of lead law

Written by Tribune Staff

A federal law designed to prevent lead poisoning in children has library officials around the nation concerned that they may have to remove children's books from libraries or close them to children under 12.

The American Library Association has contacted libraries warning them that the Consumer Product Safety Commission may mandate that children's books be tested to determine whether they contain unsafe levels of lead or be removed from the shelves.

At issue is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, passed by Congress in August 2008 in response to the presence of lead in toys imported from China. Under the law, which takes effect Feb. 10, children's toys, clothes, furniture and other items are subject to testing and strict standards concerning lead content.

Children's books are also subject to the law, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's general counsel.

Books may contain small amounts of lead in inks, and according to counsel's opinion, would have to be tested. If excess levels of lead are found, they must be removed from the shelves of the library. Until the testing is complete, libraries would be unable serve children under 12.

Further, the expense of testing might force some libraries to close their doors to children under 12 altogether.

According to Dale Collum, director of Uinta County libraries, the American Library association is taking the threat seriously.

“If the CPSC's initial opinion is allowed to stand, it will mean that all libraries will have to either remove all books intended for children 12 and under or prohibit those patrons of that age group from entering the library until the collections can be tested and certified as being lead and toxin free,” Collum said in a letter to members of the Wyoming Library Association this week.

Collum said the commission has the power to grant an exemption from the testing requirement for books, and the book-publishing industry has provided the commission with the results of 300 tests showing that books are free of toxins in an effort to support a request for an exemption.

In addition, Collum said, the American Library Association is in contact with Pamela Gilbert, who as a member of Barack Obama's transition team, oversees the team responsible for the Product Safety Commission. According to Collum, Gilbert has said she does not think Congress intended libraries to be covered by the law.

Wyoming Library Association President Cynthia Twing of the Johnson County Library has contacted Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi about the issue, and has encouraged others write to the Congressional delegation as well.

Park County Librarian Frances Clymer said she is hopeful that libraries will not be subject to the testing, but said the concern is appropriate.

“In all honesty, I don't think it's going to happen,” Clymer said. “But I think it's highly appropriate that we get in contact with our representatives.”

Clymer said the law was intended to stop “the egregious exposure of children to lead in toys,” which she said, is unlikely to happen with books.

A definitive rule is scheduled to be issued next week by the Commission, Clymer said, and it would be appropriate for people to contact their members of Congress or Nancy Nord, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Nord's office phone number is 301-504-7901, Clymer said.