My dog's new shampoo comes with a curious warning label: "The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish." It briefly crossed my mind whether this meant the rest of us could safely take a swig or two of the canine hairwash, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon rummaging through the closet looking for warning labels that were not just meant to evade lawsuits but written for idiots by bigger idiots.
Of course, we've all heard or seen "Caution: Hot beverages are hot!" on take-away coffee cups that were prompted by the famous 1994 Stella Liebeck case against McDonald's for serving her hot coffee that was "too hot" and caused third-degree burns. The court ruled in her favour and Stella walked away with US $450,000 for the spilled coffee that she had paid 49 cents for.
My efforts yielded some hilarious results. I discovered an electric thermometer had came instructions saying, "Do not use orally after using rectally", and expired sleeping pills that warned: "Caution: It may cause drowsiness". I also have a hairdryer with the instructions, "Do not use while sleeping," which has perhaps been manufactured by the same company that made the curling irons with the label, "For external use only!" and "Warning: This product can burn eyes."
The only warning labels that make some sense are the ones on products for toddlers and children. The one I always look out for is the "non-toxic" and "lead-free" stamp on toys and crayons that ensure the superhero or bimbette the toddler is chewing on does not contain toxic lead, which have been found in brands such as Disney.
Lead is a toxin that causes retardation, stunting, learning and behaviour problems in young children by affecting their brain, nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system. It also causes complications during pregnancy, such as stillbirths and underweight babies. Symptoms of listlessness, headaches or stomach cramps occur only after high exposure, so anaemia remains the best indicator of too much lead in the body.
Taking away lead-containing toys, however, does not ensure a lead-free environment.The toxic metal is found in just about everything, beginning with house and furniture paint to batteries, water pipes, lead pencils and ceramic tableware. For children, the biggest risk is from cheap paint used on swings and slides at playgrounds.
Enforcing lead-free regulation make a difference, with the use of unleaded fuel in Delhi alone halving lead levels in children's blood within a year. Eating breakfast brings down lead levels in children by 15%, as does washing hands and face frequently to remove lead dust and soil, keeping the house free of dust and shunning lead-based paints. That apart, avoiding unpackaged spices, clay pots and dishes, cosmetics and painted metal and wooden toys is enough to protect your child.
With lead-poisoning out of the way, you too can start reading warning labels just for the fun of it.