The Consumer Products Safety Information Act of 2008 called for the amount of lead in children’s products to decline from the currently mandated 300 parts per million (ppm) to 100 ppm, “if technically feasible,” on August 14, 2011. After collecting input from a variety of industries—most of which were against this provision—and other groups, the Consumer Products Safety Commission formally voted yesterday to allow the 100 ppm limit to take effect. By a 3-2 vote, the Commissioners ruled there is no evidence that the lower limit is not technically feasible.

The new limit affects book publishers much less than many other industries, since spiral coils and saddle-stitching are virtually the only metal components used (except in some book-plus products). Gary Jones, assistant v-p of environmental, health, and safety affairs at the Printing Industries of America, points out that coils and saddle-stitching may come from scrap metal, and that lead is a potential contaminent during the recycling process. “All of the testing data we have seen show that coils and saddle-stitching wire have trace amounts of lead and are well below the standards,” Jones says. “But some suppliers to the manufacturers of coil and saddle-stitching wire can’t say that lead would never be found in the metal.”

Testing of each batch of metal prior to it being sent to the coil or saddle-stitching vendor, or testing of each batch of coil or wire by the vendor, would catch these aberrations. If the metal, coil or wire exceeded the limits, it would have to be used for a non-children’s product or destroyed. So the main issue for publishers is not the technical feasibility of producing spiral-bound or saddle-stitched books with less than 100 ppm of lead. Rather, it is the cost of preventing metal that exceeds the limits from getting into the manufacturing process and then having to dispose of any metal that doesn’t meet the requirement.

While children’s products must contain fewer than 100 ppm of lead as of August, there is still a stay of enforcement on the CPSIA’s testing requirements until December 31 of this year. The CPSC has not yet issued its testing rule, which has long been awaited by publishers of novelty, book-plus and certain other titles. (“Ordinary” children’s books that contain only exempt components do not need to be tested, although they still must adhere to the lead limits. Items such as paper, board, and process inks are exempt; elements like laminants and some adhesives are not.)

Part of the reason for the delay is that the CPSC is waiting to see what happens in Congress with an amendment to the law, the Enhancing CPSC Authority and Discretion Act of 2011. It was put forth earlier this year and is currently stalled.

Some observers of the legislative process believe that during the next (as-yet-unscheduled) mark-up session, where House members can introduce amendments to the ECADA, a hoped-for provision to entirely exclude ordinary children’s books and other printed matter from the Act may be proposed. Another possibility is an amendment that would ease the requirement for mandatory third-party testing and allow manufacturers to implement “reasonable testing” programs. (The ECADA, as it stands, also addresses libraries’ concerns about the Act, by removing the requirement that older books, as well as newly manufactured products, must adhere to CPSIA requirements.)

However, even if these amendments are introduced, there are many steps remaining before the ECADA would become law, and not much time before the session ends and the process would start over. “We’re close, but yet we’re far away,” Jones says.

Click here to read our coverage of the key events in CPSIA history.