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The Straight Dope 

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Why does the label on a bottle of Pine-Sol say, "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling"? Exactly what uses are unlawful? We'd hate to be sent up the river on a Pine-Sol rap. --Hank Keedy and James Nielock, Chicago

Don't laugh, boys, it could happen. Disinfectants are legally classified as pesticides, which are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. A warning is required on the labels of all such products, regardless of their potential threat to the biota. Strictly speaking, the EPA could nab you if you used too high a concentration of Pine-Sol (or Lysol or what have you) or, for that matter, too low. This may seem like a classic case of bureaucratic overkill--you can just imagine EPA SWAT teams swooping down on the nation's Polish grandmothers to see if they're mixing up the Pine-Sol right--but actually it does make some sense. Insecticides kill insects, and nobody doubts they ought to be regulated; disinfectants kill microorganisms, so it stands to reason they should be regulated, too.

Lest you be overcome with paranoia, be assured that much of the EPA's enforcement effort is directed at disinfectant manufacturers, to see that their products are registered and labeled with the proper directions and so forth. On the consumer side, they usually just keep tabs on larger users--hospitals and day-care centers, say. They'll only check up on an individual when there's an injury or a citizen complaint. Ergo, if you're into serious Pine-Sol abuse, make sure you do it out of sight of the neighbors. Sanctions, should it come to that, range from a warning letter for a first offense to fines and even criminal prosecution. For what it's worth, most EPA citations of individuals involve weed killers and pesticides; nobody I spoke to could recall a disinfectant bust. Not that I want to encourage crime, boys, but this could be your chance to make eco-history.


Sorry, but you've been scooped on the placenta story [April 15]. The use of placenta in cosmetics was featured in the Chicago Tribune in a 1980 article entitled "Beauty May Be Only Placenta Deep." The writer interviewed the owner of RITA Organics, a company in Crystal Lake, Illinois, that makes freeze-dried extract from human placenta. They get the frozen organs individually wrapped, packed 40 to a box. The final product sells for $3,500 to $5,500 per pound. --Tom Lubomski, Chicago

The Straight Dope never gets scooped, Tom. However, we freely concede that the daily newspapers can provide a useful supplement to this column. The Tribune reported that RITA once upon a time purchased frozen placentas from hospitals (the going rate was 50 to 75 cents each), which it thawed, sliced, and filtered. The end product was a white powder that RITA sold to cosmetics companies. Products containing placenta supposedly accounted for 5 percent of all protein-based beauty aids. RITA has since gotten out of the business, but the Merieux Institute of Lyons, France, may still be at it.

In other placenta news, I have received a Stern Warning to Youth from Richard Reich, MD, of Madison, Wisconsin. Reich warns that placentophagia--that's placenta eating, for you rustics--can help spread AIDS and hepatitis. Cecil therefore solemnly advises his readers, next time they're invited to a placenta party, to thoroughly inspect mother and child for signs of transmissible disease. As for you, doc, let's cool out a bit--the stuff kept you alive for nine months, didn't it?

Finally, David English of Somerville, Massachusetts, has thoughtfully sent me a copy of the script for a censored Saturday Night Live skit featuring--you'd better sit down for this--Placenta Helper. "Placenta Helper lets you stretch your placenta into a tasty casserole," sez here. "Like Placenta Romanoff--a zesty blend of cheeses makes for the zingy sauce that Russian czars commanded at palace feasts," etc. The last line was supposed to have been a voice-over from Don Pardo: "Placenta Helper--make a rare occasion, a rare occasion." Very tasteful. Why it got cut we'll never know.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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