130416_CCF_DumbCalifornia_picIt’s the Friday before a major holiday week, so for government agencies large and small it’s the cool day to get in all your cover-your-bum rulemakings and potentially unpopular decisions. California’s Environmental Protection Agency is no different: Today, it will list Di-isononyl phthalate (or the easier to pronounce “DINP”) as a carcinogen under the state’s notoriously overbroad toxics “right-to-know” law, Proposition 65. DINP is a plastic component used to make PVC more pliable.

The law requires “cancer warning” labels on everything from fishing rods to motor vehicles to even Christmas tree lights, a mandate humorously lampooned in the (not too exaggerated) cartoon below. Recall that a few years back lawyers thought that they could use Prop 65 to sue every restaurant that served potato chips, despite findings by toxicologists and the Food and Drug Administration that the levels of the targeted compound (acrylamide) were so low as to not be a real-world issue. Animal rights activists sued over grilled meat, but fortunately saw their lawsuit dismissed.

California Warning

And surprise, surprise, there doesn’t appear to be a real danger from real-world exposure to DINP except perhaps in rare circumstances. The National Toxicology Program does not list DINP on its list of carcinogens or probable carcinogens. A European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) report concluded that exposure to DINP from food and the indoor environment was not expected to cause a risk to adults or children, and ECHA did not change its regulatory approach to DINP. The European Chemicals Bureau concluded:

The end products containing DINP (clothes, building materials, toys and baby equipment) and the sources of exposure (car and public transport interiors, food and food packaging) are unlikely to pose a risk for consumers (adults, infants and newborns) following inhalation, skin contact and ingestion.

In other words, even the regulation-happy and risk-averse Europeans find the plastics component safe for almost all uses. California’s decision to list it and require warning labels does little more than empower trial lawyers and contribute to “warning fatigue” as the ever-more-meaningless labels multiply.