Let’s Limit Collateral Damage from Regulatory Overreach

Regulation is essential and necessary to consumer protection. Regulation, when based on sound science, provides confidence to each and every one of us that the products we come into contact with every day are safe for use by us and our families.

The challenge we face today is when regulation — however well-intentioned — is based on misleading and inaccurate information, thus lending voice and credibility to falsehoods, and creating negative implications for otherwise safe products.

A prime example of such regulation run amok can be found in the recent back-and-forth in California over whether or not Proposition 65 requires cancer warnings on cups of coffee. Why did this happen?  Because of the presence of acrylamide, a chemical found in the roasting of coffee beans. The mere presence of a chemical identified to cause cancer in a product — regardless of its amount — requires labeling under Proposition 65.

A comprehensive report completed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer found that consuming coffee poses no significant risk of cancer. Yet this study and numerous others were disregarded under Proposition 65, resulting in a requirement for labels that would cause damaging confusion about a product many of us consume daily. For many, this was a step too far into the regulatory theater of the absurd — with scientific evidence disregarded and products unfairly demonized.

Recently, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb sent a letter to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment supporting the exemption of coffee from a Proposition 65 cancer warming. Gottlieb stated: “We too have carefully reviewed the most current research on coffee and cancer and it does not support a cancer warning for coffee. … A warning could mislead consumers to believe that drinking coffee could be dangerous to their health when it actually could provide health benefits.”

Thanks to the FDA and others, California is currently rethinking its stance on cancer warning labels for coffee. But it’s not just about coffee. Instances of similar overreach that go against the public interest are unfortunately not unusual.

We now face a situation in states and localities across the country in which misguided regulatory efforts are undermining decades of work in developing applications and markets for recycled materials.

Take, for example, recycled rubber used to cushion artificial turf fields and playgrounds. This product has numerous benefits — perhaps most importantly preventing injuries when athletes run, slide or take a tumble. Recycling tires also saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling just four tires, for example, reduces CO2 by roughly 323 pounds, which is equivalent to 18 gallons of gasoline.

Unfortunately, over the last several years, we have seen a number of states and localities overreach in their regulation of this market. Such actions have misled the public and ignore more than 110 studies conducted by governments, non-governmental organizations, academics and others in the United States and Europe that have demonstrated that the health risk associated with the use of crumb rubber is well under acceptable risk levels. Dr. Archie Bleyer, an expert in pediatric oncology, published a peer-reviewed study in Cancer Epidemiology concluding that the avoidance of synthetic turf fields and playgrounds for fear of increased cancer risk is not warranted.

It’s time that we realize that we’ve gone a step too far on the alarmist scale and not let over-eager plaintiffs’ lawyers mandate excessive warnings that verge on being meaningless. Much progress has been made when it comes to recycling, and it would be unfortunate for that to be undone by overreaching regulation whose benefits to consumers are questionable at best.

Of course, consumers deserve to be informed. But scientific analysis should carry the day when it comes to assessing the safety of various products.


Robin Wiener is president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc.

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