The most useless warning sign in the world

Walking into the parking garage of my apartment building this morning, I became aware of a huge sign posted at the entrance:

"Warning: This area contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm."

It turns out this sign is the result of Proposition 65, passed in 1986, which in part prohibits workplaces from knowingly or intentionally exposing individuals to dangerous chemicals without giving advance warning. The thinking goes that businesses are letting individuals know they may be risking their own or their babies' lives by entering a certain area.

But there's no further information as to which chemicals the area contains, in what amount, and how harmful those chemicals are. In other words, is it unsafe to spend a few minutes in that area every day, or do you basically have to lick the wall to get exposed to the chemicals?

So basically, instead of being forced to clean up these areas, businesses got away with placing the burden of safety on people who choose to enter that area. But what's the alternative? Are pregnant women in my building not supposed to use the parking garage? There's no easy overnight street parking nearby, so how are they supposed to avoid the garage if they have a car?

Also, the proposition was originally intended for employees who spent long amounts of times in buildings with these chemicals. But again, what's the alternative? Find another job? There's no addendum that says companies have to help employees find other jobs in non-toxic buildings. So what is the real point of these signs? What good do they really do?

The proposition wasn't completely useless: It required companies to place similar warnings on products, including alcoholic beverages. But products are easily avoidable, and have simple alternatives: Places of residence or work don't. Hey, but there's one benefit to this law: Businesses saved thousands through its passage. All they had to do was have the area tested and then post up a little sign. The larger price is the health and safety of millions of people, including pregnant women and their fetuses, but who cares about that, right?

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