Thursday, November 07, 2013

NRDC v. EPA (9th Cir. - Nov. 7, 2013)

Nothing you learned in school is true.

Okay, I admit, that's a bit of an overstatement.  But this is nonetheless a fascinating case.

It's an EPA case, which I know means that it's going to take a lot to convince many readers to actually read the thing.  But here's my pitch:

(1)  The case is all about whether they (e.g, the manufacturers, importers and distributors) can coat your clothes, your bedsheets, your rugs and carpets, and basically all of your textiles everywhere with nanosilver.  Which is essentially really, really, really small time-release particles that contain silver.  Designed largely to kill (or at least deter) bugs, mold, and the like.  Because silver and living things generally don't mix.

You may be thinking:  What's wrong with that?  Perhaps nothing.

But it does mean that you're going to be exposed to -- and your children may well ingest -- a lot more silver than you might otherwise think.  And there's not exactly a recommended daily allowance of silver.  For example, the opinion notes that three-year old children might ingest a fair amount of silver from "mouthing" their clothes (and/or "blankie"), from resting against bedsheets and/or carpets (and/or, again, the ubiquitous "blankie"), and other common things.  I can also personally testify that it's not just three-years you've got to be worried about.  Yes, they're smaller, and lighter, and (as a result) have more to potentially fear from the ingestion of even small amounts of silver.  But my seven-year old still has his (though technically now "my") blankie.  And my twelve year old still repeatedly mouths the front collar of her shirt.  In the future:  That's all eating silver.

Again, maybe that's okay.  Maybe there's no harm.  We fed mice a lot of silver, for example, and not much seemed to happen.  So maybe we should be cool with it.

But we know the stuff kills things.  That's the whole point.  And the thought that our kids might be eating the stuff -- as well as absorbing it through their skin -- certainly isn't affirmatively encouraging.

(2)  The most interesting part of the opinion, in my view, is on pages 20-22.  Believe it or not, a large portion of the opinion focuses entirely on the following question:  What's 0.00047 + 0.000027?

The EPA says it's .000497.  The Ninth Circuit says it's 0.00050.  And that makes -- literally -- the entire difference in this case.  Because the case comes out one way if the EPA's right, and another if the Ninth Circuit's right.

You're taught as a kid that the EPA is right.  You're taught in elementary school that .00047 is the same as .000470.  That you can add zeros at the end of a decimal figure without consequence.

Nope.  Critical consequence.  Dispositive here.

Check out the Ninth Circuit's math.  Fascinating stuff.