lead and you…part two

no, not recess - peanut butter!The media circus has come and left town since we last considered the impact on youth powersports as a result of the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s interpretation of how much lead should kids be allowed to eat. (Hint: none.)

Malcolm Smith’s protest drew the attention of SoCal’s news outlets and a nice mention in USA Today, along with links on bike blogs throughout the land. Which got me to thinking, how much lead is too much? For instance, working my way through the University of Florida included a stint at the Gainesville Sun. This was at the dawn of what would briefly be known as cold type, or the sunset of hot type.

Hot type. That was for real men. Noise, heat, molten metal squirting into the environment at random. My job was on the floor, tending the various Linotype typesetters that interpreted instructions from punched paper tape sent down from the newsroom and loaded in loose spirals that told the font magazine which brass characters to spit out for assembly into slugs of lead cast from lines of type.

this is how papers were once printedAh, lead. Le base metal par excellence. Number 82 on the periodic table of elements. Part of my job description was to make sure the electric pots integral to each machine didn’t run low. Lead ingots (pigs) – recycled over and over – were hung by eyelets from a chain that, as the molten level in the pot drew down, automatically lowered the casting, thus completing the cycle. Solid state to molten state via an intermittent gaseous state.

Nobody had those fancy little nitrile gloves that are all the fashion rage now for keeping your mittens clean and fresh smelling. Did I mention the electric keyboard called into play whenever the tape broke or was unreadable? Every now and then someone might, accidentally, spill a soft drink into the workings. Our maintenance guy’s solution was to fill his pump up sprayer with white gas and hose it down. This probably 18 inches away from the electrically fired pot of molten lead.

So now here I am some decades later, removed from that medieval scene that was the heart of the newspaper industry for a century and a half, wondering about a people’s commission charged with enforcing a law that however well intentioned borders on criminally stupid.

Because in addition to the relatively limited impact it may have on youth powersports, the failure to weigh it’s enforcement against the nation’s libraries and their millions of books still containing lead tinted ink is stupyfing. Now consider at least one cost estimate of up to $300 per book for testing to confirm or deny the presence of lead in books printed prior to 1986, and the real dimensions of the law’s interpretation come to light. They say, hey, we don’t mean every book. We say, you refuse to put other interpretations into context, so why would you do so for libraries?

Forget for the moment that libraries themselves could soon be listed on the Endangered Species List – xbox, cable, texting and tweeting have all pretty much taken care of that little speed bump – one wonders over the quantity of lead-tinted pages that would have to be consumed in order to manifest the known and deadly side effects.

And then there’s this mental image to play around with: stimulus bonus bucks spent on temp workers in hazmat suits bagging books from the NYC Public Library for consignment to a sequestered bio-hazard landfill. Whoa, Nellie.

Verdict: back to the drawing board for this mangled on interpretation bit of legislative cure.