This text may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm
If I believed everything I read then I’m almost certain to die of cancer after siring several three-headed mutants.
I say this because wherever I go; at almost every doorway, parking lot entrance, public building and so on, I’m confronted by these words:
bq. This area may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.
It is, of course, the result of well-meaning State legislation (Proposition 65) which really wasn’t thought through. But underneath it all lies a couple of ugly American traits:
- Collective hypochondria on a near-hysteric level
- The fear of someone suing you, your children and your childrens’ children
The original purpose of Prop. 65 was to ensure that no-one was unwittingly exposed to hazardous chemicals during their daily lives. All well and good. But somewhere along the way, it got twisted.
To get some idea of how ridiculous the situation is, take a look at the list of chemicals (pdf) which require a Prop. 65 warning. There’s 18 pages there.
Because of the range of potential harm, these notices have to appear in all sorts of places. There are two big gotchas:
- Anywhere someone might conceivably ever be smoking (danger of passive fumes)
- Anywhere involving petrol/gasoline (so, gas stations, parking lots, roads…)
Just overlap these two in some kind of twisted Venn diagram (title: “I’m gonna die!”) and you’ve basically got “the entirety of the outdoors”.
The big problem is that the signs don’t say which chemicals any given area might contain. So they don’t help me assess whether I’m in danger of a couple of lungfuls of passive smoke, the fact that someone’s fuelling their car, or a massive slick of Cadmium emanating from a place that makes batteries. Perhaps I’m at risk of being sprayed with Mustard Gas, or perhaps someone is going to give me an Aspirin (no, really, it’s on the list). The whole thing is so vague as to be completely pointless.
The other problem is that many of these “hazards” have been established according to experiments which don’t reflect the real world. Sure, dunk a lab rat in a vat of petrol repeatedly for a month, and the poor sucker is going to feel ill. I, however, don’t habitually go down to my local Valero station for a quick swim in their storage tanks.
Proposition 65 is, in short, a weird combination of collective panic and State nannyism which is boggling to a foreigner. It’s enough to make you want to drown your sorrows with large amounts of booze.
Except, of course, that alcoholic beverages (when associated with alcohol abuse) are known to the State of California to cause cancer…