Seeking to help keep their members from becoming victims of the lumber equivalent of ambulance-chasing lawyers, the Lumber Association of California & Nevada (LACN) and the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) announced an initiative yesterday designed to help businesses avoid violating a new California law that lists "wood dust" as a cancer-causing substance.

The two groups consulted with state officials on language for warning signs that they creating regarding wood dust that the members would display on their premises. Effective Dec. 18, state law bans anyone in California, while in the course of doing business, from knowingly and intentionally exposing an individual to wood dust "without first providing a clear and reasonable warning," LACN said. The warning signs that LACN and WWPA created have earned an opinion from the California Attorney General declaring that the signs satisfy the "clear and reasonable" warning provision of the statute.

The warning signs declare: "Drilling, sawing, sanding or machining wood products generates wood dust, a substance known to the State of California to cause cancer. Avoid inhaling wood dust or use a dust mask or other safeguards for personal protection. California Health and Safety Code Section 25249.6."

LACN said it took action involving the update to the regulation, known as Proposition 65, "despite arguments that the definition was vague, wood dust was already covered in state and federal OSHA regulations and that the science used in making the determination was questionable." Having lost that argument, fear of lawsuits took over.

"Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Proposition 65 is the provision that allows 'any individual acting in the public interest' (italics LACN's) to enforce Proposition 65 by filing a lawsuit against a business alleged to be in violation of the warning," the association said. "These are usually from lawyers who file such actions as their main business.

"The language in Proposition 65, passed by the voters in 1986, is exceedingly vague," LACN added."Warning sign language and placement is not defined for an anything other than the alcoholic beverage industry. Other businesses have to cope with vague and often capricious interpretations of providing reasonable warning."

LACN said that in exchange for it and WWPA undertaking education and notification programs for the wood products industry, "the Attorney General's office has agreed that if this program is followed by a business, it is their opinion this will satisfy the 'clear and reasonable warning' requirement of the statute. While no one can prevent an action being filed by a third party, this program should assist in influencing dismissal of any action and deter such lawsuits."

Opinions vary as to how this California state law would apply to potential plaintiffs outside the state's borders, LACN said. But it then added: "[A]ny action, no matter what the outcome, is expensive and time-consuming. Our goal is to assist those involved in any segment of the wood products industry comply with this law to the best extent possible."