The Consumer Product Safety Commission has said it will not enforce the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act when it comes to “ordinary” books printed after 1985, and legislation was introduced last week that potentially would exclude ink-on-paper and ink-on-board books from the Act entirely. But for publishers of novelty and book-plus formats—which account for a significant chunk of sales, especially in mass-market and special-market channels—the CPSIA will remain in full force, with all of its costly testing, certification and labeling requirements.

After a stay of enforcement, publishers have until February 10, 2010, to get their CPSIA-mandated third-party testing procedures in place. However, publishers and retailers have had to comply with the law’s safety requirements since February 10 of this year, which has led the large retail chains to demand testing for all children’s products, some as early as last November. A survey of over a dozen publishers exhibiting at Toy Fair in mid-February found that almost all already had some sort of testing in place, largely due to the demands of their key customers.

Several publishers said they test all of their titles, not just novelty books but also ink-on-paper formats. Most books came through the testing with flying colors, but there were a few incidences reported in which titles did not make the grade. With the increasing interest in all things “green,” it’s interesting to note that books made of recycled materials are more likely to contain some lead or phthalates and therefore less likely to make it through the testing process.

Publishers report that not only are the leading mass-market retailers such as Target and Wal-mart (which buys books through Levy and Baker & Taylor) requiring testing, but so are catalogers, dollar stores such as Dollar Tree, specialty stores such as Marshall’s and TJ Maxx, and specialty chains such as Learning Express. In some cases they have thick testing manuals for their vendors to follow, as well as blanket testing policies that cover all product categories equally, no matter what the relative likelihood of high lead content.

Even for publishers that have long been testing their novelty titles, the CPSIA has added a few new twists that take more time and cost more. Lynn Brennan, acquisitions manager of Silver Dolphin Books, notes that her company has been testing its titles, many of them educational and activity formats that tend to include lots of parts, for years. But the CPSIA’s new requirements have resulted in Silver Dolphin assigning two people full-time to ensure compliance with the Act’s complicated and confusing provisions. That is the case with other publishers as well.

“The testing takes longer, and it adds two cents a book to everything we do, which is a lot on a book that we’re charging 25 to 30 cents for,” says Randy McDonald, v-p at Paradise Press, a publisher of coloring books and low-priced novelty titles. He points out that while the retail chains’ testing requirements were put in place as a result of the CPSIA, some of their policies go well beyond anything dictated by the Act.

Another wrinkle is that the CPSC is still in the process of figuring out what testing protocols will be accepted. If all the components—ink, paper, adhesives, etc.—are tested, will that be adequate or will the finished book need to be tested as well? Which parts of a book will be considered “accessible” and need to be tested for lead? Will composite testing (mixing a variety of materials together and testing them, rather than testing each separately) be allowed? Currently the law has been interpreted as requiring the finished book as well as all of the component parts to be tested and has ruled out composite testing, which makes the process prohibitively expensive for many publishers and titles. However, the CPSC is still considering alternatives that would be effective in determining a product’s safety but less burdensome in terms of cost.

In addition to testing, the CPSIA includes new labeling, tracking and certification requirements for certain products. “Tracking and labeling is really fundamental,” said Nancy Nord, acting CPSC chair, at a recent safety seminar. As with testing, however, the rules are not all in place yet.

Some of the requirements include certification of choking-hazard testing from a third party lab for products targeted at children under age three; the testing requirement has been in place for 20 years but the certification is new. (Certification will be required for third-party lead testing as well, as of next February; most publishers are creating Web sites to make that information available to their customers.)

In addition, there are new cautionary labeling requirements for small parts in products for slightly older children, ages three to six. And labeling extends to advertising and sales channels as well. Section 105 of the CPSIA dictates that safety warnings already included on certain products or packaging also must be visible at the point of purchase; in other words, if customers cannot see the packaging, as on the Internet, in a catalog, or in advertising, the warning must be printed next to the image of each applicable item.

Another big concern is tracking labels. As of August 14, 2009, play-value books will have to include tracking labels, which are permanent distinguishing marks on the product and packaging that states the manufacturer, date and place of production (possibly through a code). Not only is this costly, especially for small quantities, but it is difficult from a design standpoint. The CPSC has said that it will probably not be able to provide guidance on the details of tracking labels by the August deadline, which should add to the confusion.

Most publishers say they are complying with the labeling requirements as well as they can, despite the increased labor costs of keeping on top of all the necessary steps. Sometimes they are even going further than necessary in their quest to adhere to the law. “Vendors are overlabeling,” reports Leah King, quality assurance specialist for Chinaberry, a catalog that sells toys and books, noting that some manufacturers are providing warnings for every possible hazard, even if they don’t apply to that product or aren’t covered by the CPSIA.

Rally Held to Push for CPSIA Changes

In other CPSIA developments, a rally at the U.S. Capitol took place yesterday, April 1. Speakers included Senators Jim DeMint and Bob Bennett and six House members, as well as representatives of a variety of industry groups. Between 150 and 200 people attended and 2,000 more viewed the event live online, according to rally spokesman George Felcyn. A video recording of the rally will be available online soon.

While the adverse effects on the publishing industry, particularly libraries, was advertised as one of the key points of the rally, the sole speaker from the publishing industry was author/illustrator Carol Baicker-McKee, who talked about how the positives of children’s books outweigh the risk of lead poisoning, cited various studies confirming that those risks are negligible, and explained the negative impacts of the law on the industry, particularly schools, libraries and used booksellers. She reported that the only publishing industry person she saw at the event was a used bookseller; no publishing or library groups were listed among the 23 industry associations sponsoring the event.

Baicker-McKee, whose most recent picture book, Mimi, was published by Bloomsbury last summer, said all of the Congressional speakers mentioned the adverse impact on the publishing industry in their remarks. But when she talked to several Congresspeople as well as CPSC representatives after the formal presentations, all gave her the impression that the law wouldn’t be changed. “I was really disheartened,” she says.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the CPSC issued a detailed response to a March 4 letter from U.S. Representative John Dingell. The 24-page document answers a number of questions Rep. Dingell had asked about the Act and the CPSC’s ability to oversee and enforce it. The document contains a significant amount of information about the Act and its impact on various industries, although it does not answer the still-pending questions about testing and labeling.

CPSIA Timeline

Want to catch up on our CPSIA coverage? Here are some highlights to date:

• The original article introducing the Act and its impact on the industry.

• An update on how industry groups initially reacted.

• News of the one-year stay of enforcement on testing requirements.

More on the stay and some legislative action.

The announcement that the CPSC would not enforce the Act for books printed after 1985.

A look at how new and used booksellers and libraries are complying.