This Column Contains Chemicals Known To The State Of California To Cause Cancer And Birth Defects Or Other Reproductive Harm

The Septuagenarian Speaks – published April 3, 2019, Siskiyou Daily News

There.  You’ve been warned!  By all means do not read this column.  If you are foolish enough to read it anyway, ask yourself these questions:  How many times have you seen this warning label on something you were about to buy?  How many times did you decide not to make the purchase because of the warning?  Or at the very least, how many times did you pause and Google the product to ascertain its actual carcinogen content?

 Cal/EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) maintains and continuously updates the list of substances for which warning labels are required.  If a substance has a one-in-one-hundred-thousand chance of causing cancer over a 70-year period, or birth defects or other reproductive harm, businesses are prohibited from exposing individuals to the substance without providing “a clear and reasonable warning.” 

You might think this warning requirement to be just another hare-brained scheme that our legislators in Sacramento came up with to justify their existence.  You would be wrong.  We did it to ourselves.  Proposition 65 was passed by direct voter initiative in 1986 by a 63%-37% vote.

The OEHHA periodically publishes lists of chemicals that require the warning label.  The most recent one that I found was published November 23, 2018.  It is 22 pages long.  I didn’t have the patience to count each substance, but I did note that the average page listed approximately 45 substances. 45 times 22 equals 990 substances.  Thus, practically everything we buy has a Proposition 65 warning label.

I guess I should feel good that my family and I are now much safer.  But, strangely, I don’t.  Warning signs and labels do have their place.  For example, I slow down at the S-curves on I-5 toward Redding when seeing those signs depicting trucks tipping over.

But when you are bombarded with them, they don’t register.  How many people plaster their computer monitors with sticky notes bearing important reminders?  Reminders too important to merely be entered on a calendar.  After a while your brain just blocks them out.

Proposition 65, although passed more than thirty years ago, has recently come under scrutiny.  Proponents argue that the law has forced manufacturers and retailers to be more accountable for the potentially harmful chemicals in their products, and that the law has led companies to reformulate their goods to minimize toxic chemicals.  They argue that the law has led to safer products and to a greater public awareness of chemicals and chemical exposures.

Opponents, on the other hand, argue that Prop 65’s warning requirements impose unnecessary and costly requirements on businesses, and that the law has become a litigation playground for plaintiff’s attorneys with frivolous lawsuits.  They claim that more than 70% of Prop 65 court settlement money goes to lawyers.  Also, at least one university statistical study claims that the law has had no impact on California’s cancer rates.

Personally, I see some merit in the arguments both for and against Proposition 65.  But what I really see is that Prop 65 is an example of government gone awry.  Citizens have become so inundated with warnings and disclaimers that, if they see them at all, they simply ignore them.  Or, in some cases, they just don’t hear them.  Warnings can be audible as well as visual.  Think about the pharmaceutical ads on TV, with the government-mandated descriptions of all possible side-effects, recited so rapidly that you can’t hear them, although you probably wouldn’t listen even if you could.

There may be scarier things in life to worry about than Prop 65.  But sooner or later, when the boy cries “wolf,” there will actually be a wolf.

Bob Kaster
Yreka, CA

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