Are Peter Rabbit, Mother Goose, and Snow White giving our children lead poisoning? Not likely, but a new federal law aimed at protecting children from brain-damaging lead in toys, jewelry, and other products is causing problems in libraries, consignment shops, and used-book stores. The law makes it illegal to sell children's merchandise that has more than 600 parts per million of lead by weight, a level that will drop to 300 parts per million in August. It turns out that children's books printed before 1985 might have been printed with lead-based ink.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been besieged by complaints from parents and consignment store owners since it became clear that the new law holds consignment store owners liable if they unknowingly sell used clothes or toys with lead levels that violate the new standard. (Lead tests can cost hundreds of dollars, so that's not a viable option.) Now librarians find themselves in the same pickle. A story in today's Washington Post reports that librarians are mulling over whether this means they have to yank one sixth of their children's collection from the shelves. The Post reports a local Goodwill reluctantly pulling Bunnicula and other classics. Yet there's no evidence that any child has ever been exposed to hazardous amounts of lead as a result of reading. Time to call in the common-sense patrol: Books are good. Eating books is not so good, even if they're lead free. So encourage reading, even if the book is a hand-me-down from Grandma, and focus worry elsewhere.
While the regulators sort this all out, here are 5 simple ways to keep your child safe now. My favorite? Don't buy cheap metal jewelry for kids. An investigation by the state of California found that 18 percent of the jewelry tested from major mall chains like Claire's and Macy's had lead levels in violation of the state's safety standard. That poses a much bigger danger than a well-loved copy of Peter Rabbit.
Here's a rundown I wrote last August on what the new consumer product safety law will do to reduce children's exposure to lead and phthalates. Want to scare your teenager? Mention that body-piercing jewelry can have toxic levels of lead.