Is EVERYTHING now Hazardous?

Alan L. Johnson

I heard Donald Ewert, who runs Occupational Health Services for the RJ Lee Group, speak on silica and other products that we've classified as "Hazardous" at the Product Stewardship 2018 conference. He made the point that we, our kids, and generations upon generations have played on beaches or in sand boxes for fun with no carcinogenic affects, but that producers of play sand must bear a hazardous ingredient label.

He further discussed the move by the State of California to make manufacturers and supply chains disclose cancer-causing ingredients that are even in a de minimis amount with a label alerting consumers:

WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer [and] [or] [birth defects or other reproductive harm].

Why have we gone so far in one direction as to forget about science and that the risk of a chemical equals the chemical's implicit hazard plus its exposure scenario? Let's be fair. I'm not condoning that we take TRULY hazardous ingredients off of banned substance lists or unsafely advise consumers, but with a focus on everything being hazardous this begins to dilute the really bad actors and takes our attention away from the hazardous issues where we should be focused.

For most people who have taken a basic chemistry class, we should all understand that a hazardous chemical in a glass jar is not hazardous to us if we don't take it out of the glass jar and expose ourselves to it. Take the example of acetic acid. Acetic acid is one of the most hazardous acids there is - it will literally burn your hand off. However, most people eat a diluted amount of acetic acid in the form of vinegar each day and don't die.

Are we seeing a modern overreaction or do we just not trust science anymore? Or is it that we live in a world where fake information is rampant? Perhaps this is a discussion for a different post, but it is clear that consumers are choosing to either accept what they don't know or inherently distrust manufacturers and believe something must be wrong.

It would stand to reason that regulators should stand by science and not speculation, but is this what we are seeing? In some cases yes, but it would seem this is the exception and not the rule unless someone strongly objects.

What is wrong with standing by chemistry and toxicology on the affects that a substance can have at different exposures. Not all things are mysteries and some things can actually be found in de minimis safe quantities. In a world where coffee now can cause cancer I think it warrants the question: Is everything now hazardous?

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. How much do you worry about the ingredients in your products?

Q2. Would seeing a warning label like the one shown above dissuade you from buying a product?

Q3. Do you agree that we should be more or less selective with what we call hazardous?