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Slurping Birth Defects
by Michael Giardina

Dec. 25, 2006 - An elderly woman with Alzheimer's happily sips hot coffee from a mug that a Bay Area rest home gave her as a Christmas present. A large sticker still stuck to the mug reads, "This product contains lead, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm." Apparently someone forgot to think.

You heard me right: A Bay Area rest home gave poisonous Christmas presents to its tenants. And the only reason we know is the attached warning sticker, mandated by the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, Proposition 65.

Intended to protect Californians from chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects, Prop 65 has - instead of forcing companies to remove harmful chemicals from their products - spawned a swanky market for skull-and-crossbones warning stickers. According to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, "a warning must be given for listed chemicals unless exposure is low enough to pose no significant risk of cancer or ... reproductive harm." To dejargonize: Products with warning labels pose a significant risk of cancer or reproductive harm. Go ahead, crap your pants.

Let's extend the Christmas nightmare: Wal-mart distributes a 25-cent box of Holiday Time Christmas lights with the warning label, "Handling the coated electrical wires of this product exposes you to lead ... wash hands after use."

Sorry, little daughter. You have to wash your hands after decorating the tree because Christmas causes cancer. Santa has failed you. God hates you. Deal with it.

Here's an idea: Don't coat Christmas tree lights with lead, morons.

Chemicals listed under Prop 65 may surprise you. Oral contraceptives (used to prevent pregnancy) and conjugated estrogens (used to treat hot flashes and vaginal dryness) leave you at serious risk for cancer. Sorry, ladies. Your gender is losing this round.

The prescription drugs temazepam, alprazolam and lorazepam (prescribed for anxiety and insomnia) as well as doxycycline (an antibiotic) also pose risks to sexual development.

Nicotine is listed, unsurprisingly. Then again, people would buy stogies if the warning label said "will evaporate brain." Unleaded gas is listed, but we kill people to fill our cars with that.

Arsenic and cocaine are listed. Companies have to warn consumers if their products contain coke and arsenic? Does your grandfather refuse to die? Try Arsenic PM. It gets the life out of you.

And for no good reason whatsoever, businesses that have fewer than 10 employees are exempt from Prop 65. That's a relief. My columns are laced with anthrax. Consider yourself warned. Why can nine people poison us, but 11 can't? Nine is company, 11 is ... Al-Qaeda?

In addition, many companies have avoided removing dangerous chemicals and ignored laws requiring them to warn the public. In 2004, Exxon Mobil, Chevron-Texaco and Shell Oil were all sued for infringements and reached settlements for over a million each.

Were poisonous wicker chairs the reason Cost Plus settled for $60,000?

Is Lamar the reason Safeway settled for $32,000?

Are there cancerous bed sheets? Bed Bath & Beyond settled for $17,500.

Sanrio settled for $320,000. I hope you didn't use the Hello Kitty vibrator.

Longs Drugs? $60,000. Discovery Channel? $56,400.

When are we going to stop manufacturing products that kill us? If you ask me, Prop 65 should not require warning labels. It should prevent manufacturers from using such chemicals, especially the most deadly of them all: dihydrogen monoxide.