Get the Lead Out: Half Price Books Testing Kiddie Tomes to Make Sure They're Safe

Long story short: I'm a sucker for old kids' books for the 5-year-old who lives in my house. Probably buy a handful every month at Half Price Books, and 'bout a month ago, via BoingBoing, I discovered Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves, which became the reason I spent the better part of a Saturday searching shelves in vain for a copy of the 1986 book The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed.


Today I noticed that shortly after the BB item was posted, someone had posted in the comments a note that the Dallas-based re-seller had yanked from its bookshelves all of its pre-1986 kids' books due to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which, right, was all about keeping lead toys made in China out of wee ones' hands (and mouths) but also dealt with kids' books published  before stricter printing regulations went into effect in '86. A brisk Google search later, and, yup, the Star-Telegram on March 5 made mention of Half Price's efforts -- voluntary, it should be noted even if the story didn't note it -- to pull and test those golden-oldies.

So, a month later, I figured it was time to check in with Half Price's Steve Leach, the chain's so-called "buy guy," for an update, lest I place a lead-tainted tome in the boy's grubby mitts.

"The testing is ongoing," Leach tells Unfair Park today. "In fact, I didn't get an update today, but there was a rally yesterday in Washington, D.C., concerning the CPSIA, and folks who''ve been blogging about this went up there. These particular people were addressing how it affects re-sellers. Initially the act was only to address toys, but they mentioned books -- specifically, books that weren't ordinary ink-and-paper books but so-called 'books plus' that had activity kits or had other plastic or metal parts. So that was what we were initially dealing with, because we also buy new books and get kids' books with pieces and parts. What the government added at almost the last minute was a provision that would prohibit selling ink-and-paper books published prior to 1986, which affected us and the American Library Association, which got very upset by this."

Half Price voluntarily pulled thousands of books worth a small fortune and put them in a local storage facility, where they've been tested over the last several weeks. Half Price spokesperson Megan Kuntz tells Unfair Park that "we tested a sampling of them, and they all ended up passing."

But Leach says there's "confusion about all of this," meaning, for instance, that some books bearing 1970 copyrights may have, in fact, been published only last week. "They don't say 'printed in 2009' on them," he says. And, he adds, "They didn't add that provision to the act because they knew for a fact that books published prior to 1986 were harmful, but because they didn't know if they were safe." And, he adds, "I don't know any instances of kids who got sick from eating lead books."

Alas, Half Price does intend to do more testing, even though it doesn't have to. Though, see, it kinda does. And doesn't. There's your confusion.

"The way the act is worded is, retailers are not required to do testing, but are expected to vouch for the safety of every item on their shelves," Leach says. "If somebody came in and found a book on our shelves, regardless of the fact we weren't requird to do testing, if they took it and did testing or knew it to contain hazardous lead, we'd be responsble."

So they're testing. And testing. Incidentally, every time a book's tested, it's destroyed -- which is bad for business, bad for collectors and parents and kids, and bad for, ya know, books. But collectors need not worry as much: Kids' books from the 1960s and further back are usually sold as collectibles to adults, who presumably won't eat them. But you never know.

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