I have been negligent in covering some of the nuttiness that is resulting from the CPSIA, the law last year passed in response to the Chinese toy recalls that allows greatly increased regulatory authority (requiring extensive testing of every lot, aircraft-manufacturing-like supply chain documentation, etc) over the entire toy distribution chain for certain perceived health threats like lead and pthalates. Worse, the law provides enormous openings for third party groups to sue for ridiculous amounts of money over unproven health risks. It is not clear to me a group suing under this law even needs to prove injury, but just some mythical small percentage chance of potential injury.
What all the targets of this law have in common are absurd overreactions to trivial risks of ingesting microscopic quantities of certain substances like lead. Recently, a whole bunch of mini-bikes were taken off the market because 12-year-olds might suddenly start gnawing on the engine parts and ingest some lead. For reasons that are not really clear to me, this country finds it impossible to rationally assess risks -- we have schools shut down with hazmat teams called out to clean up the mercury when someone drops a thermometer in the lab, while day after day the school probably serves fish in the cafeteria with higher mercury content than any kid would get from being near a broken thermometer.
Overlawyered has been all over this story, for example here. The most recent episode came the other day when an EPA spokesman suggested that all libraries needed to pull books from the shelves printed before 1985 because there might be a billionth of a gram of lead in the ink:
It's been a day of dramatic developments on the CPSIA-and-libraries front. An Associated Press article out yesterday quoted Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as officially urging the nation's libraries to remove from their shelves children's books printed before 1986 until more is known about their possible dangers from lead in their inks, dyes and pigments:
Until the testing is done, the nation's more than 116,000 public and school libraries "should take steps to ensure that the children aren't accessing those books," Wolfson said. "Steps can be taken to put them in an area on hold until the Consumer Product Safety Commission can give further guidance."
Within the day, however, commission chief of staff Joe Martyak said that Wolfson had "misspoke", and that the commission has neither concluded that the books might be dangerous nor recommended that libraries take any action. An early version of the AP story is here, with the Wolfson quote, and a later version here, for purposes of comparison.
It's not as if Wolfson was making things up here. As readers will recall, one of the two CPSC commissioners, Thomas Moore, called weeks ago for some undefinedly large share of old books to be "sequestered" from children for the time being. However, the full commission has left the issue up in the air rather than endorsing Moore's view.