In 1986, California voters approved the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 more commonly known as Proposition 65. Proposition 65 requires the State of California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list, which must be updated at least once a year, has grown to include nearly 1,000 chemicals since it was first published in 1987.
The list includes a wide variety of chemicals many of which can be found in common household products, dyes, solvents, drugs, food-additives, pesticides, tobacco products and many are by-products of certain manufacturing processes, or they may be products of common chemical processes, such as motor vehicle exhaust.
Q: With a label that says “This product can expose you to chemicals including Toluene and Acrylamide which are known to the State of California to cause Cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov” how can I trust that the product is safe?
If a Proposition 65 warning is posted, it merely means that the business issuing the warning knows that one or more listed chemicals is present in its products. A warning must be given unless a business demonstrates that the exposure it causes poses “no significant risk.” Because it can be very difficult to prove the impossibility of a risk, we chose to disclose the existence of the substances.
Q: How dangerous is it to use a product with a Proposition 65 warning?
The legislation does not prohibit the use of the listed chemicals. It requires that if one or more of the listed chemicals are present in a product, a warning must be provided. By law, a warning must be given for listed chemicals unless exposure is low enough to pose no significant risk of cancer or is significantly below levels observed to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
According to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment:
For a chemical that causes cancer, the “no significant risk level” is defined as the level of exposure that would result in not more than one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifetime. In other words, a person exposed to the chemical at the “no significant risk level” for 70 years would not have more than a “one in 100,000” chance of developing cancer as a result of that exposure. For chemicals that are listed as causing birth defects or reproductive harm, the “no observable effect level” is determined by identifying the level of exposure that has been shown to not pose any harm to humans or laboratory animals. Proposition 65 then requires this “no observable effect level” to be divided by 1,000 in order to provide an ample margin of safety. Businesses subject to Proposition 65 are required to provide a warning if they cause exposures to chemicals listed as causing birth defects or reproductive harm that exceed 1/1000th of the “no observable effect level.”