What is Proposition 65?
In 1986 – almost 30 years ago – due to concern over exposure to toxic chemicals, Californian voters passed a citizen initiative, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, or, as it’s now universally known, Proposition 65. This citizen-based initiative, which is now the law in California, requires the State of California to publish two lists of chemicals – one list of chemicals that have been shown to pose a risk of causing cancer in animals or humans, and the second list of chemicals that have been shown to pose a risk of causing birth defects or other reproductive harm in animals or humans.
Even if a chemical has not been shown to cause these kinds of harm in humans, if the harm has been shown in animal testing, then the State of California is required to put the chemical on the appropriate Proposition 65 list. The two lists, which are updated once a year, have grown to more than 800 chemicals since they were first published in 1987.
Proposition 65 also requires any company doing business in California to notify Californian consumers about the presence of a Proposition 65-listed chemical in any product the company offers for sale in California.
If a product sold in California could expose a Californian resident to the specified minimum amount of one of these 800+ chemicals, the product must include a warning notice. Proposition 65 does not ban the sale of a product that contains a listed chemical; it simply requires the product to have a “clear and reasonable” warning notice on it.
Why does the Product I’ve Bought Contain a warning?
California Proposition 65 entitles Californian consumers to special warnings for products that contain chemicals determined by the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm if those products expose consumers to such chemicals above a certain level set by California.
Are All States Affected by Proposition 65?
Proposition 65 only applies in California. Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers who sell consumer goods in California are subject to Proposition 65’s warning notice requirements, whether or not the company is located in California. However, it is certainly possible that a product originally intended for sale in California that has a Proposition 65 warning notice on it could find its way to another State and be offered for sale there, even though Proposition 65 doesn’t apply in that state.
Are Products with a Proposition 65 Warning Notice Unsafe?
When a manufacturer includes a Proposition 65 warning notice on a product it does not mean the product is unsafe. Rather, the notice is intended to inform Californian consumers of the presence of a listed chemical so the consumer can make an informed decision when purchasing the product.
How Concerned Should I Be about a Proposition 65 Warning Notice?
A bit of background information is needed to understand what Proposition 65 warning notices really mean. It’s important to understand that a Proposition 65 warning notice does not mean a product is dangerous or harmful. The threshold exposure limits that the State of California has set for many chemicals on the two Proposition 65 lists are far below the “safe” limits set by other regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, various European health agencies, and the World Health Organization.
How Does Proposition 65 Determine the Threshold Levels for Which a Warning Notice Is Required?
Proposition 65 establishes two criteria to define the level of exposure risk. One criterion applies to cancer risk and the other criterion applies to the risk of birth defects or other reproductive harm:
The maximum daily exposure threshold for a cancer-risk chemical is determined using the “no significant risk level.” The “no significant risk level” is defined as the maximum daily level of exposure that would result in not more than one additional case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to that specific chemical every day for 70 years. In other words, a person who was exposed to the maximum daily limit of the chemical at the “no significant risk level” for 70 years, would have no more than a one-in-100,000 chance of developing cancer as a result of that 70-year exposure.
The maximum daily exposure threshold for a chemical that could potentially cause birth defects is determined by using the “no observable effect level.” The “no observable effect level” is defined as the maximum daily level of exposure that has been shown to not cause any birth defects or reproductive harm in laboratory animals or humans. In addition, as a margin of safety, the “no observable effect level” is divided by 1,000 to establish the threshold for requiring a Proposition 65 warning notice for that chemical.
What about similar products with no warning labels?
You can’t assume that products without warning labels are free of harmful chemicals or exempt from the Prop 65 warning requirement. It’s possible that the product isn’t sold in California which is the only state that requires this warning label. Some companies only put labels on products that will be sold in California, so you won’t find them unless you buy the product there. Finally, older products without any warning label sold prior to when the labeling requirement went into effect, may also contain the listed chemical(s).
Where can I get more information?
For general information on a CA Prop 65 list of chemicals and review FAQs from The California regulatory OEHHA’s website, please access: http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/p65faq.html