I admit I was among the 63 percent of California voters in 1986 who supported Proposition 65 — the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.
The title sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The language made it clear that people had to be warned about products that could cause cancer based on scientific research.
Based on what it has morphed into it should be renamed the Full Employment Act for Lawyers and Bureaucrats Act.
There were 688 settlements in 2017 involving Proposition 65 claims costing business and ultimately consumers $25.8 million. And where do you think 76 percent of that went? According to the state attorney general’s office it went to attorney fees and related costs.
Proposition 65 warnings are so prolific today that they are glossed over faster than terms of agreement needed to access some online functions.
You’d think businesses would just yawn, slap the label on their product, and move on. That, however, would ignore the most hazardous issue — litigation. The warnings can give legitimacy to dubious claims of harm.
Case in point: No one has sued Starbucks or other coffee purveyors and/or roasters yet for developing cancer they attribute to drinking coffee.
There is now a big pushback over a court ruling upholding the state’s position under Proposition 65 requiring cancer warning labels on coffee over the fact there are traces of acrylamide found in coffee. The chemical is needed to roast beans.
Let’s be clear on two points. Just having the presence of an element or chemical that can cause cancer when 100 times the daily human consumption is interjected daily directly into the stomach of a rat doesn’t mean humans will contract cancer from the trace elements unless they mainline a couple gallons of coffee every day. The other is that advances in technology to measure outcomes has drastically changed in 32 years making 1986 tech standards seem pre-Stone Age in comparison.
The Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program that is part of Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire, cites research that shows studies strongly suggest that arsenic is an essential trace element for birds and mammals.
Arsenic is also found naturally in drinking water and the soil.
Studies also “strongly suggest” acrylamide could cause cancer. Similar qualifying language attached to research on both arsenic and acrylamide make it clear a certain threshold of maintained exposure is needed for dire effects to occur. It is why every human ever to walk the face of the earth hasn’t suffered from arsenic poisoning. It is the same reason there hasn’t been one death attributed to cancer due to coffee drinking.
As for passing a measure 32 year ago, it is clear the capabilities of science to measure trace amounts of substances in even more minute detail has grown exponentially with technological advances. That means there is significantly more scrutiny given to trace elements that can lead to concerns being overblown given they are taken out of context in terms of what it takes to develop health issues from exposure.
The strides are much like the cell/mobile phone. When they first hit the market in the late 1970s they weighed more than a couple of bricks, had a very short and undependable battery life, and could only be used for voice calls. Today they weigh ounces, the batteries last for hours upon hours between being charged, they have more processing power than a military computer from the 1960s and are barely used any more for voice calls.
The language in Proposition 65 notes chemical can be labeled as toxic to trigger mandated state cancer warnings in three ways. They are:
— If two independent state panels of health and science experts conduct deliberations that conclude they are toxic.
— If federal agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration among others — determine they are toxic.
— If the World Health Organization identifies that the chemical can cause cancer in lab animals such as rats or people.
Once a product is determined to have toxic chemicals as outlined under Proposition 65 firms must warn consumers on packaging or else risk being sued by the state.
Of course, putting a toxic label on coffee is a great way to trigger the modern day Gold Rush for attorneys — class action suits.
Some purveyors of coffee aren’t battling the state as they are opting to cut their losses. One example is 7-Eleven that agreed to pay the state $1 million plus for the salaries and related costs of state attorneys and bureaucratic staff that filed lawsuits.
On one hand you might say the public needs to know. But then again the fact it took the state 32 years to determine drinking coffee may lead to cancer should give you pause when it comes to how real the risk really is.
The only Californians who seem to be reading Proposition 65 warnings slapped on products are lawyers and bureaucrats.
Given there are over 900 chemicals that the state has listed as being causes of birth defects or cancer there are literally thousands of products with the warning.
How many have you read lately?
More importantly, are you going to stop drinking coffee especially given the bottom line that no one has pointed to an actual cancer death attributed to coffee drinking?