If you've purchased a car in California you've experienced one of these stickers blocking the view on your driver-side window. At least for the few minutes it takes you to get it home when you scrape it off.
You've also seen a similar warning every time you enter a parking garage, or a hotel, or a business of just about any size.
If you live near any sort of manufacturer, food-processor or anybody else who might occasionally use a cleaning solvent in the course of doing normal business, you will also get a letter from them every year telling you pretty much the same information, even if the use of the chemicals is entirely within an enclosed facility with no impact on the outside environment.
I have no argument with the notion that businesses should have to disclose non-obvious and non-normal risks to the public that they serve or that might be impacted. But we've gotten to the point of crying wolf. Identifying obvious risks so frequently and pervasively that the warnings of real, unusual or unanticipate risks gets lost in the clutter.
Seriously, is there anybody with enough brainpower to read this label who does not yet know that things like gasoline, oil, antifreeze and automobile exhaust are dangerous? Is there anybody checking into a hotel who doesn't know that the cleaning supplies they use to sanitize the bathrooms may, in sufficiently large quantities, be harmful? Anybody who is not aware that a parking garage may contain all of the above and more and that maybe it's a bad place for kids and pregnant women to play?
Yet we seem trapped between those who feel that everything should be disclosed, to the point that the disclosure becomes so routine as to be meaningless, and those who feel that business should not be hampered with any disclosure requirements.
If you think it's bad with this Prop 65 stuff, try to buy a car or a condo. Dozens to hundreds of pages of disclosure, all of which is so dense as to be meaningless and not understandable. Want to understand how the mortgage crisis could happen? It's because a mortgage -- which should be easy enough to describe in less than a single page of high-school enlish -- now requires so much disclosure and documentation that even a guy like me with an MBA in finance can't understand it.
Yet the answer we get from government is always more disclosure.
The problem is we need less. We need less disclosure, but meaningful disclosure. We need warning labels and letters about non-normal risks, not warnings on every parking garage. We need mortgages and car loans to use a 1-pager disclosure form indicating interest rates, initial payment, maximim payment over time if it's a variable rate, date the reset can happen, and just a few other simple things.
Yet we're not getting this, instead we're getting more and more confusing disclosure. More confusing paperwork and labels that just give the banks, the polluters and everybody else who needs to disclose stuff ample opportunity to bury the important disclosures in among the hundreds of other meaningless warnings that know we have come to ignore.
Our regulatory infrastructure is designed to force people to cry wolf. Along the way, we never notice that occasionally a wolf is really there.