Wyss: Caustic substances law is noxious

The more one learns about Illinois’ new caustic substances law, the more one has to wonder, did any of the legislators who voted for this law actually read it?

The fact that it passed at all is amazing. The fact that it passed unanimously is perplexing.

In case you were unaware, it is now illegal in Illinois to sell caustics, including drain and toilet bowl cleaners and muriatic acid (a compound commonly used to clean boat hulls) without first checking the purchaser’s ID and making the buyer sign a log listing name, address, date and time of transaction, and the brand, product name and net weight of the item.

Are you kidding?

So, if you have more than one bathroom to stock, and you want to gather a reserve of products to clean your boat in the spring, can you expect a state police visit?

Did any of the legislators who so quickly and quietly passed this law last August give any thought to its inconvenience-to-intended-effect ratio? Or its enforcement?

“This was just not thought through,” said Steve Bjorkman, co-owner of Bjorkman’s Ace Hardware in McHenry. “I think there’s a lot of stores that aren’t even going to have the capability to monitor this thing. And I hate the idea of treating people like they’re untrustworthy, like they cannot be trusted with a common everyday product.”

Bjorkman, like other hardware store operators, likely will be greatly affected. He estimated that as many as one in 10 transactions at his store involves a newly regulated product, and he worries about the law’s effect on his cashiers.

“They’re going to feel the brunt of [customers’ ire],” he said.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, was one of the bill’s many co-sponsors.

He said the bill was intended both to help prevent disfiguring attacks and, more importantly, to stymie methamphetamine production. Products such as ammonia and muriatic acid are among many commonly found in meth labs, which, Franks said, are a growing concern in southern Illinois.

Also commonly found in meth labs, by the way, are bed sheets, aluminum foil, pop, water and milk bottles, and blenders. Shall we begin checking ID and obtaining signatures for these, too?

Franks said the bill sailed through largely because no interested party, including the Illinois Retail Merchants Association or the Chemical Industry Council, opposed it. In fact, Franks said, they supported it.

“I don’t think people should be blowing it out of proportion,” Franks said Thursday, adding that if, in a year, the law is determined to be onerous, he would support repeal.

Franks said that he wished he had heard from constituents before the law passed, and he wondered why people like Bjorkman seemed to have been caught off-guard when industry representatives were well aware of the bill last summer.

“People need to get more involved,” Franks said.

Indeed, and laws like this are provocative enough that they just might.

• Cyndi Wyss is the Northwest Herald planning editor. She can be reached at 815-526-4534 or cwyss@shawmedia.com.

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