The typical inflammatory, fact-challenged, alarm-the-moms news reporting by local TV stations on “dangerous” children’s products hit a slow period this year after news producers around the country realized the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act represented an overreaction. In drafting the legislation, Congress didn’t anticipate that used bookstores and libraries would destroy pre-1985 children’s books because of high lead content (high by CPSIA standards). Destroyed books? Awful! Pretty good story, though.
But now WJLA, Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate in Washington, is returning to the halcyon days of scaring the bejeebers out of people. The station broadcast a report Tuesday on its 5 p.m. news, “Local Library Books Could Contain Toxic Lead Levels“:
WASHINGTON – Lurking on library shelves may be a potentially toxic level of lead contained in the covers of some children’s books. And until recently, no one seemed to know it was there.
“That’s disturbing — very disturbing news,” said Diamond Phifer, a parent.
ABC 7/NewsChannel 8 grabbed an armful of children’s books from public libraries in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. The covers of nearly 30 books were checked using a home lead testing kit.
Tests showed lead, so the station followed up with more sensitive testing at Schneider Labs in Richmond.
Beginning in August, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act prohibits products intended for children 12 and under containing more than 300 parts per million of lead.
That drops to 100 parts per million in 2011 — but sources say even that can be dangerous. “Lead has been shown even at the lowest level we can test to cause harm, to cause significant long lasting harm,” said Dr. Dana Best, a lead expert at Children’s National Medical Center.
The lab determined the cover of one book had 1,793 parts per million, nearly 18 times the 2011 maximum and more than enough to be considered toxic.
The other book barely complies with the 2011 standards, having 86 parts per million on the cover.
A couple of problems with the story. First, you never learn when the books in question were published, which is a key question. Pre-1985 children’s books were printed with ink that contained minutes traces of lead, but the report never states when “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood,” was published. Amazon lists many, many editions of the book from many different years. (Having loved the Howard Pyle stories as a kid, we’d assert it’s more dangerous not to have read them than to come into contact with their covers.)
The more important question is whether the lead standards required by the CPSIA make any real-world sense.
WJLA found a no-lead absolutist to quote, but according to the Schneider Labs, well, maybe there really isn’t a problem:
Only trace amounts of the lead transferred to a wipe when the lab did what’s called a wipe test. “Small amounts of lead very low levels of lead were released onto the wipe after we wiped the book,” said Schneider Laboratory’s Quality Assurance Manager, Julie Litz. “The amounts released were well below the EPA ‘hazard’ levels for floors and interior window sills. This indicates the lead is found “in the covers of both books.”
Indeed, if you look at footnotes from one of the testing reports, “Minimum Reporting Limit: 0.250 pg. For work involving HUD, child-occupied building and other residential units, the Federal Lead Standard for paint is 0.5% lead by weight (5000 ppm). ” So paint, which a child would be around all day, maybe even ingesting, is potentially dangerous only when it reaches 5,000 ppm. And books are dangerous at 100 ppm?
The WJLA report simply did not address the issue of what comes next. If the reporters are telling the viewers that law says the books could endanger children, the next logical step is to ban or destroy those books, or at least remove them from library shelves.
Reporter Chris Van Cleave: “We showed our toxic books to American Library Association’s Emily Sheketoff.
Sheketoff: “Well, I need to tell my members so if any of them have copies of this, they can remove it.”
Goodbye Howard Pyle.
Note: KIRO-TV in Seattle did this same story last month, the even more alarming, “Toxic Lead Levels Found In Children’s Library Books.” Given the nature of journalism, we’ll be bound to see similar fear-mongering on ABC affiliates around the country.
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