EDITORIAL: Jerry Brown seeks to add a point to dull Prop. 65 warnings

California finally is retooling the ubiquitous Proposition 65 warning notices in a way that would provide people with information they actually might find useful. Good.

Chemical companies, the California Chamber of Commerce and many other corporations whose products may include toxic substances are protesting. Of course.

Proposition 65, approved by voters in 1986, is hardly a holy grail. It is dated and overused. Aspects of it ought to be changed, although that is difficult without another initiative.

The warnings are so common that they’re ignored. The new warnings might be ignored, too. But at least people who want to avoid, say, lead, mercury or toluene could avoid certain products.

At Gov. Jerry Brown’s urging, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has embarked on a project by which warnings, which are posted on gasoline pumps, parking garages, bags of charcoal and many other products and locations, would get more specific.

Experts in the health hazard assessment office have been working on the project for much of the year, and expect to propose a new regulation within a few months.

The current warning says: “This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.”

According to Sam Delson, the office’s spokesman, a new warning might read something like this: “This product can expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.”

The change seems simple enough. But opponents have filed what Capitol wags have come to call a NASCAR letter, the reason being that it includes the logos of all the many opponents.

This NASCAR letter is especially full, including three dozen entities, among them the Toy Industry Association, Western Growers Association, California Farm Bureau, National Asphalt Pavement Association, the Auto Alliance, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun-makers, the industry-funded Civil Justice Association and its corporate cousin, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

“Requiring additional text to warning labels will prove challenging, particularly for businesses whose products contain more than one of the 12 listed chemicals,” says the letter signed by American Chemistry Council lobbyist Tim Shestek.

The concerns of the affected industries should be taken into account. No change should open the way for “lawsuit abuse.” But the interests of consumers and parents ought to be paramount.

The substances that would be named in new warnings would include tobacco smoke, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, mercury and toluene, which is in gasoline and nail polish, among other products. These chemicals are hardly cooties. Letting consumers know specifically what they should be aware of isn’t hazardous to anyone’s health.