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Proposition 65: Anti-Toxics Initiative

October 25, 1986

With respect to the article (Oct. 13) by Paul Jacobs on Proposition 65, I must point out that many of the major claims made by backers of the proposition in that article are simply not true.

It is claimed that there has been no action to limit exposure to harmful chemicals. That claim totally ignores the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and occupational safety and health law.

These are relatively new or newly amended federal laws. Many of the federal regulations are still being written; and those laws largely control what states can do. The California law on hazardous wastes is less than two years old and is still being implemented, and other laws were passed at the last legislative session.

According to the article, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, an author of the proposition, says that the proposition would make business want to negotiate with environmentalists and government officials to work out reasonable rules. Later, a Sierra Club official and co-author is quoted as saying that state government will have to define terms such as what constitutes a "significant" risk. Still later, it is said that a state agency would define allowable releases.

Apparently these people either haven't read their own proposition or don't want to admit what it says. Proposition 65 explicitly defines "significant" as being any detectable amount .

As an illustration of what that means, consider that most of us would be quite worried about an attack on the United States by the Russian army. Yet an attack by a single Russian infantryman would be relatively trivial. But, for a well-equipped analytical chemist, "detectable" can be as small a proportion as one person in the entire world's population. Further, that amount is not determined by legislation or court decision, but by each monthly issue of various journals of analytical chemistry.

Or consider the highway speed limit. There is evidence that a 65-m.p.h. limit would lead to significantly more death, dismemberment, and other serious injuries (lots more than the number of people who might possibly get cancer from their drinking water). Reducing the limit from 55 m.p.h. down to 45 m.p.h. might show even fewer injuries. Not far below that, effects of even lower limits will be undetectable. It's pretty obvious that most California drivers have made a risk-benefit decision to drive as if the limit were 65. If Proposition 65 were applied, the speed limit would be no detectable speed.

The initiative authors are quoted as saying that animal studies that "strongly suggest" carcinogenic or teratogenic effects of a chemical would provide the data needed to show what levels of discharge are safe. But what Proposition 65 really says is that absolutely no detectable discharge is allowed. Any business accused of such a discharge would supposedly be allowed to show that it is safe; again, what 65 really says is that the business is guilty unless it can prove that there is no significant risk from lifetime exposure at that level (or no detectable effect at 1,000 times that level, in other cases). Studies on carcinogenic effects of chemicals always have some concentration low enough so that any effects are statistically undetectable. Proposition 65 would require that the defendant prove that there would be no effect--a very different and basically impossible proof.

The proposition would make it illegal for any business to expose any individual to a known or suspected carcinogen or teratogen without clear warning to such individual .

This would appear to make the sale of tobacco illegal without considerably stronger warning than now appears. Other products requiring warning would include grilled steaks, pepper, and numerous vegetables.



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