Area kids’ book bags undergo testing for lead
ASPEN Those bright red book bags that area preschoolers have been lugging around for the past several years have been yanked from circulation for testing for lead contamination, officials confirmed.The bags are the signature symbol of the Raising A Reader, a nationwide literacy program founded in 1999 in California. The local program, which serves youngsters from Aspen to Parachute, is under the direction of Aspen resident Jayne Poss. Poss said Tuesday that the program has been suspended temporarily.Poss, who is vacationing in Hawaii, said notification of the testing went out to area preschools and school districts the week of Oct. 28, and that an announcement of the results is expected this week.She stressed that the bags have posed no immediate health threat to children or their families, and that the national organization decided to test the bags, which were made in China, after recent revelations of lead contamination of a variety of other products made in China and imported into the United States.Poss said one set of bags used in the program, which are blue and are distributed to children as part of a program to familiarize them with area libraries, were found to be lead-free. But some of the red bags, she said, apparently contained minimal amounts of lead in the plastic lining.The lead levels in the red bags were so insignificant, according to Raising A Reader’s national organization, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission declined to issue a formal recall.”We’re not really sure the red bags are going to be discontinued,” Poss said in a telephone interview, explaining that it might be that the red bags will remain in use until they wear out in the natural course of events, and then they would be replaced.Officials at several area preschools and at Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, where the program has extended to the kindergarten level, acknowledged that the Raising A Reader program is on hold. They said their only real concern at this point is that the children are eager to get their books and get reading.”The kids love it, it’s huge with the parents, it’s a fantastic program,” said Michelle Oger, director of Blue Lake Preschool. “The kids really want their books back.”Oger also lauded the program’s headquarters for its prompt action in pulling the bags from circulation and testing them voluntarily.”I was impressed by the amount of communication we got from Raising A Reader,” she said.Raising A Reader is due to bring its bright red book bags to more than 1,300 children from Aspen to Parachute this year. That is up from the 391 preschoolers enrolled in the program in 2004, the year it came to the Roaring Fork Valley region.The program aims to improve literacy among very young children and encourage parents, particularly those with low English language skills, to read to their kids at home.Poss, who today works with one paid assistant and a budget of about $258,000, manages the program across three counties – Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield. She said she expects to hear from headquarters Thursday about the test results and what will be necessary to get the program going again.John Colson’s e-mail address email@example.com
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