In New York City's Garment District
on Tuesday, 1000 manufacturers and
workers rallied in protest of the CPSIA.

Last Friday’s one-year stay of enforcement of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act of 2008 has caused many in the publishing industry to breathe a sigh of relief. Even with only about a week left until the testing and certification provisions of the Act were to kick in, many publishers were still struggling to figure out how to comply without costs becoming dangerously high.

The stay gives them another year to put a testing and certification system in place. It also gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission time to provide more guidance on how publishers and other manufacturers of products for children should comply with the confusing law—such as whether printers’ assurances that components and materials are safe is adequate or whether finished products need to be tested—and to study whether certain products, including most traditional books, should be exempted completely because evidence overwhelmingly shows they’re safe.

In addition, the extra year will give Congress time to review the Act and potentially make reforms; Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina introduced a CPSIA reform bill, S. 374, on Wednesday.

“This is an opportunity to cool our heads, and review what this legislation is intended to do,” says Robin Adelson, executive director of the Children’s Book Council. “Kids are not dying from lead poisoning in books, and this Act could truly bankrupt a whole industry. That wasn’t the intent. The idea is not to drive you out of business.”

“We welcome the stay,” comments Meryl Wolfe, director of manufacturing at Scholastic. “We appreciate that the CPSC realized that law involved too many unintended negative consequences that would dramatically impact many businesses, including publishers and book manufacturers. However, this stay provides only partial relief and we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We will continue to work with the Association of American Publishers and the CPSC to seek an exclusion for plain paper and ink products, such as books, and the rational interpretation and implementation of the CPSIA.”

Others point out that the stay, coming so close to the deadline, will make little difference. “The question is, what does it really mean?,” says Andrew Steinberg, president of Modern Publishing. “It’s late. We’ve already spent the time and money to put these testing mechanisms in place. The groundwork is done.”

Bookstores and libraries are happy about the stay, believing they can rely on publishers to ensure books are safe and that they can continue selling and lending children’s books. “Libraries can continue to loan books to children as they always have,” says Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington office. “We’re optimistic that, before the stay is over, we’ll have a permanent fix.”

“This will allow the publishing industry time to study the impact on stock, and insure that all books are in compliance,” adds Kristen McLean, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children. “We applaud the CPSC for making this important decision, because the alternative would have been very disruptive in an industry that is already making big adjustments for the current economic environment.”

It’s important to note that while the stay will delay enforcement, most of the requirements of the Act still will go into effect on February 10, 2009, meaning that products on store shelves must have lead levels within the Act’s guidelines, even if there is no paperwork to back that up. The CPSC has encouraged state attorneys general, which are charged with enforcing the law, to honor the stay, but several legal experts do not believe the CPSC has the ability to stop them from taking action. That means publishers, booksellers and others along the distribution chain could still face lawsuits, even with the stay in place.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Manufacturers released a statement from Rosario Palmieri, NAM’s v-p of infrastructure, legal and regulatory policy, that says, in part, “The CPSC’s actions unfortunately grant no relief to manufacturers, retailers, thrift stores, resellers, distributors or others who have asked the CPSC for clarity regarding the lead content provision of the CPSIA….The CPSC emphasized in its January 30 announcement that the stay only applies to testing and certification, not to the sale of products that do not comply with applicable mandatory safety standards.”

Palmieri continues, “Retailers will not sell products where there is a question and may demand test data to prove that products meet the standards. Books, bikes, apparel, electronic products, and others may still have to be tested even though the Commission may eventually complete its rulemakings and exempt those products.”

Many in publishing believe the liability issue may be less a concern for books than for some other products. Not only do hundreds of tests offer evidence to support traditional books’ safety, but consumers do not view books as being risky and therefore are unlikely to make complaints against them. “The stay tells all of us that things still have to meet the required levels, but we already know that ink and children’s books are well below those levels,” Adelson says.

Still, the continued threat of liability means big-box retailers such as Wal-mart, Target, Costco and Barnes & Noble may continue to demand testing and certification—their requirements came into effect months ago in anticipation of the Act—as a means to reassure themselves that the books they sell are safe and protect themselves in the case of lawsuits. If they do, as many publishers think is likely, then the stay of enforcement will not provide much relief to houses that sell to these retailers. B&N said it will continue to carry children's books as long as those books are in compliance.

One of the biggest issues associated with the CPSIA, as currently written, is the requirement for expensive and time-consuming independent testing of children’s products. This provision would have gone into effect in August 2009; the February deadline required publishers to provide internally generated proof that their products were safe. The third-party testing requirement has been delayed, but publishers will still have to deal with it eventually if they are not exempted from the Act. Even with some of the immediate pressure off, they will be watching anxiously to see what happens next.

Other industry groups have been critical of the stay as not providing enough relief. The Coalition for Safe and Affordable Childrenswear held a rally in New York on Tuesday protesting the Act’s testing requirements, saying the cost could cause the loss of 4,000 apparel jobs in the city alone. Several industry associations, representing toy, childrenswear, arts and crafts, jewelry, juvenile products, motorcycle, writing implement and sleepwear makers, launched an ad campaign on Wednesday to encourage Congress to extend the deadline for all provisions of the act. “All businesses want to comply with the new law,” the ad reads. “However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is not done clarifying which products and materials fall under the new rules, thanks to the law’s unrealistic compliance deadline.”

Another development: Senators John D. Rockefeller and Mark Pryor and Representatives Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush, the chairs of the committees and subcommittees that oversee the CPSC, sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday asking for the resignation of CPSC Acting Chair Nancy Nord. The letter is significant in that it strongly supports the Act as written and blames confusion and chaos surrounding it on Nord. This may not bode well for the success of DeMint's or any other CPSIA reform bills that may be introduced.