updated 2/6/2009 8:14:26 PM ET 2009-02-07T01:14:26

Librarians, clothing makers, craft sellers and thrift-store owners received a reprieve Friday from federal regulators who moved to quell confusion over a new product safety law.

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued what amounts to temporary exemptions to a new anti-lead rule taking effect Tuesday. Last week, the CPSC delayed until next year the lead testing required as part of the law, adding to confusion over how the new standard would be enforced.

Under the new guidelines, people who sell or make children’s products that usually don’t have high levels of lead — such as certain kids’ clothing and crafts made of natural woods — are among those getting an exemption. Libraries would also get some relief.

Thrift stores, clothing makers and others complained the law was overly broad and could cause some to go out of business. Libraries suggested they might have to ban children to keep them away from books that were perfectly safe.

Specifically, the enforcement policy issued by the CPSC temporarily exempts materials with lead content that consistently fall well below the new standard taking effect next week. That standard mandates kids’ products may contain lead at a level of no more than 600 parts per million.

The products outlined in the new policy include:

  • products made of dyed and undyed wool and cotton, such as clothing.
  • ordinary children’s books printed after 1985. There is concern about the level of lead in the ink used in books printed before 1985.

The acting head of the agency, Nancy Nord, said she hoped the policy statement would “help reduce confusion in the marketplace.”

Nord has been criticized by Democrats in Congress who pushed for the new law following a slew of lead-tainted toy recalls. She has blamed confusion over the law on Congress for passing a sweeping bill with tight deadlines and no new funding.

Earlier this week, Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Bobby Rush of Illinois, sent President Barack Obama a letter accusing Nord of bungling implementation of the law. They requested that Obama ask Nord, a Bush appointee, to step down immediately.

On Friday, Pryor welcomed the new policy statement from the agency.

“I urge the commission to provide further assistance to the many small businesses that are applying a good-faith effort to protect their young consumers,” Pryor said.

The agency plans further study before issuing permanent exemptions. CPSC said people who knowingly sell, manufacture or distribute children’s products with excessive levels of lead will not be exempt. Those who have been warned before by CPSC about their products also could be prosecuted.

The new lead limit was passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer as part of a bigger product safety law. It applies to products made for children 12 and under. Toys and other kids’ products that contain certain chemicals, called phthalates, over 1,000 parts per million also would be banned.

Businesses, especially small businesses, complained that the law could cause significant financial losses or store closings because of costly product testing required in the law.

Last Friday, CPSC announced that it had voted to delay for one year most of the testing requirements. The new limits for allowable lead and phthalates remain, but the requirement for the testing and certification slips to Feb. 10, 2010.

Lead poisoning can cause irreversible learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive defects and other health problems.

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