Rachel Merrill, mother of three, was holding innocuous-seeming contraband in her hand at an Arlington Goodwill store earlier this month: a 1971 edition of "Little House on the Prairie." This copy of the children's classic had just become illegal to resell because of concerns that some old books contain lead in their ink.
Legislation passed by Congress last August in response to fears of lead-tainted toys imported from China went into effect last month. Consumer groups and safety advocates have praised it for its far-reaching protections. But libraries and book resellers such as Goodwill are worried about one small part of the law: a ban on distributing children's books printed before 1985.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the act, lead in the books' inks could make its way into the mouths of little kids. Goodwill is calling for a change in the legislation even as it clears its shelves to comply, and libraries are worried they could be the next ones scrubbing their shelves.
Parents like Rachel Merrill are concerned, too. She home-schools her children and says that new books are just too expensive.
"We eat organic food, and I'm very careful about that kind of stuff," she said. "But to me, it seems like the law's written way too broadly."
Scientists are emphatic that lead, which was common in paints before its use was banned in 1978, poses a threat to the neural development of small children. But they disagree about whether there is enough in the ink in children's books to warrant concern. Some even accuse the safety commission of trying to undermine the law by stirring up popular backlash.[...]