You’ll never guess what happened in California

There is no law so inane, so pointless, so mind-numbingly idiotic that some random desk bound bureaucrat somewhere won’t attempt to enact it.

For example, the City Council of Aliso Viejo, Calif., was warned by a staffer of the vast and manifest dangers of one odorless, colorless, tasteless chemical, dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). DHMO, otherwise known as hydric acid, is ostensibly a substance that could “threaten human health and safety.” DHMO, widely used in a host of industries, is so dangerous that the council wrote a law banning styrofoam cups, solely because DHMO was used in their production.

This law is ridiculous on its face-how is banning styrofoam cups in one small California town (population 40,166) going to affect the industrial use of DHMO? Easy: It isn’t. Only an ignorant pinhead could believe otherwise.

Yet the stupidity of the City Council goes even deeper. You see, a paralegal employed by the city first brought DHMO to the council’s attention, after reading a Web site detailing its supposed dangers.

According to anti-DHMO Web sites, DHMO kills uncounted thousands of people every single year. Some of the “dangers” of DHMO are: “Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities. DHMO is a major component of acid rain. Gaseous DHMO can cause severe burns. DHMO contributes to soil erosion. It leads to corrosion and oxidation of many metals. It is found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and lesions.”

Feeling scared? You should be, for DHMO is an exceedingly dangerous substance, widely known as H2O, or water. Inhaling it is certainly lethal. This is commonly called drowning. But is it reason enough to ban this dangerous substance?

One wonders, after banning the industrial use of water, what other laws Aliso Viejo could pass to control this dangerous substance? Perhaps it could outlaw rain, streams, rivers or oceans. Maybe it could forbid the use of water in cooking or farming. Now that we know how dangerous water is, isn’t it our responsibility to ban water altogether, if only for the children?

“It’s embarrassing,” said City Manager David J. Norman in an AP news story covering the DHMO controversy. I should say so. And not just because the council was taken in by a hoax originally devised by a ninth grade biology student.

It’s embarrassing because of the prejudices exposed by the hoax. I won’t dispute that the City Council may have had good intentions, but isn’t the road to hell paved with good intentions? Government bureaucrats are slowly encrusting our civilization, burying it under reams of needless, useless regulations. The “fix everything” mentality of the nanny state seems set to forbid anything dangerous, even water.

The pattern is familiar-invent or exaggerate claims which make the disaster of the day seem more dangerous than it is, spread uncertainty, fear and doubt, then accuse the unbelievers of scientific heresy for doubting the “truth.”

Government regulation is needed-is necessary-in many instances. Experience has proven that regulations that control food quality, water quality and air quality (among other areas) can be a good thing. This is why bad regulations need to go-they weaken the ability of the government to enforce helpful regulations.

Intrusive, counterproductive regulations based on junk science are offensive and dangerous.

They raise the cost of consumer goods. They inhibit economic growth (contributing to poverty).

They can severely impact public health.

California required a chemical, MTBE, to be added to all gasoline in the state. This was supposed to improve air quality. Instead, MTBE accumulated in ground water supplies, rendering them unfit for human consumption. Bad regulation negatively affected public health.

Well-meaning bureaucrats and lawmakers should keep these possible negative consequences in mind, rather than rushing to enact legislation intended to counter the latest media-driven pseudo disaster.

If they do so, they may be able to avoid becoming the stars of another over-regulation cautionary tale, like the City Council of Aliso Viejo.

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