Without chemicals life would be damned hard.
Alcohol is a chemical, for crying out loud, and without it, many of us find life damned hard. Oh sure, there are other important chemicals too, I suppose. Salt is a chemical and sort of important. Water is a chemical; it’s useful in making beer and wine. Oxygen is a chemical; it’s got my vote for breathing. And Adenosine triphosphate is a chemical that, like beer, without it, life would be damned hard (it’s an energy-carrying compound found in the cells of all living things).
Yep, chemicals are the stuff of life. Yet for many the word “chemical” conjures thoughts of meth labs and industrial factories, even the dictionary says so. A chemical is, “a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, especially artificially.” The dictionary’s definition must have been written in Chemophobifornia, Land of Proposition 65.
In 1986, we Chemophobifornians passed Proposition 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,” aka, the Lawyer Full Employment Act. The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) explains what the act was meant to do, “[Proposition 65] was created with the intent of improving public health through reductions in the incidence of cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes that might result from exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals.” ACSH points out the law has not exactly lived up to its purpose, “the law makes no mention of level of exposure, which means that it doesn’t really indicate the level of risk, or indeed if any health risk actually is present from some trace amount of some allegedly toxic chemical.” (italics in original)
It is because of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act that we have Prop 65 signs in every California Starbucks. Lawyers sued to warn customers that coffee beans at Starbucks—and this is true—have been roasted.
Welcome to the Hotel Chemophobifornia
These signs are—excuse my fucking French—fucking everywhere. Hotels, motels, mini-marts, coffee shops, pit stops, fast food restaurants, slow food restaurants, parking garages, gas stations, grocery stores, amusement parks, car dealerships, car repair shops, nursery and hardware stores, nail care, hair care, beauty parlors, massage parlors (I don’t have firsthand knowledge, so to speak, on that one), etc.
“…it’s largely not because the warnings are necessary or meaningful,” food lawyer Baylen Linnekin wrote in a Reason article, “Eat Food and Die”, “but because the state—or even private individuals or their heroic lawyers—can sue those who fail to display these worthless signs.” If it’s a business big enough to be sued, it has a Prop 65 warning sign. These signs stoke cancer fears from chemicals, especially those that sound odd or unfamiliar and faintly ominous to many.
Into this quagmire of cognitive dissonance, step chemophobic special interest groups, purporting to represent the public while quacking pseudoscience. These activist environmental organizations conflate facts into slogans and sound bites to parade them around proudly as though they were scientific fact. Worst of all, these groups have the ears of politicians and bureaucrats in California. California’s fear of chemicals is their foil. Value signaling is their currency.
One of these groups, the Environmental Working Group (EWG—aka the Environmental Worrying Group), applauds California as leading the way in chemically induced fear.
“An analogy might be helpful here,” says ACSH regarding EWG’s messaging technique. “Domesticated dogs come in a huge range of sizes from tiny Chihuahuas to huge Mastiffs. They also come in a huge variety of personalities, from breeds which you could easily trust with a baby to those which have been bred for aggressiveness and which have been known to maim and kill people. If anti-dog activists were to propose that any dog should be avoided and that people should move to towns that exclude all dogs, most people would dismiss the idea as ridiculous.” So, when your state is recognized by EWG as being progressive and “good,” that’s bad. It means you have been had. Your wallet will be lighter; you’ll be paying more but getting nothing in return.
Josh Bloom—who holds a Ph.D in organic chemistry and is Senior Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the American Council on Science and Health—has posted the scientific equation that groups such as EWG use:
“Honest discussion of dose = (Less money)2”
Be Afraid. Be Very, Very Afraid.
On July 5, 2017 (tomorrow as I write this), California’s State Water Resources Control Board—the California entity that enforces the federal Safe Water Drinking Act (not to be confused with Prop 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,” confused?, that’s exactly what they want you to be)—is scheduled to consider lowering the limit on perchlorate (four oxygen atoms attached to one chlorine atom) because, and this is true, present-day instrumentation is more sensitive. (My open letter to them here)
The ability to detect chemicals at ever lower levels has led to a conflation of hazard and risk. Hazard is the potential thing happening, say water poisoning. Risk is the possibility of this thing happening, you have to drink water (a lot of water).
Here Josh Bloom exposes an exposé on lead levels in baby food by the Environmental Defense Fund:
“EDF‘s analysis of 11 years of FDA data found:
- Lead was detected in 20% of baby food samples compared to 14% for other foods.
- Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40% of samples.
- Baby food versions of apple and grape juices and carrots had more samples with detectable lead than the regular versions.
“I’ll take it a step further. If we had analytical instrumentation even more sensitive than the incredibly sensitive detectors that now exist, lead would be detected in 100% of baby food, 100% of other foods, and 100% of all apple and grape juice. It’s a damn good thing that instrumentation isn’t more sensitive. Think of how many children would be in danger then.”
I wonder if California’s State Water Resources Control Board knows that “every person and animal that ever lived has an average of about 20,000,000 plutonium atoms in their bone marrow,” Brian Dunning of Skeptoid points out, “simply because we live on this planet.”?
I am sure with sensitive enough equipment, we could find plutonium, one of the most dangerous substances on earth, in our water; I bet that California’s State Water Resources Control Board would go apeshit.
Part 2 soon: Value Signaling Left Turns.