What is California Proposition 65?

You know those warnings that come on the back of everything from play sand to food saying, “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer?”

Well, I’ve been noticing an awful lot of them lately and got curious as to just how dangerous products with the “Proposition 65″ warning could be. After all, it seems like this warning is on nearly everything at Wal-Mart.

Although I just began noticing this warning a few months ago, the law which created it was passed in 1986 as part of the “Safe Drinking and Toxic Enforcement Act,” which requires companies who knowingly produce products which may cause cancer to disclose said fact in a clear and precise warning so that consumers may make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to use it.

Sounds great, right?

Not exactly.  If you actually tried to find what chemicals are in a product with this label, you’d have to jump through bureaucratic hoops in hopes of finding an answer. The product could contain something as benign as benomyl (a fungicide which can adversely affect earthworms and has not been in production for more than 30 years) or as deadly as Kresoxim-methyl, added to the list just last week (there isn’t even a Wikipedia page up for this chemical yet).

The list of qualifying chemicals is literally 22 pages long.

Some items have been curiously delisted, like Allyl Chloride, used in the production of plastics. It is considered by the EPA to be “highly toxic and flammable,” yet was delisted in January 1990. The handful of chemicals delisted from Proposition 65 are almost as scary as the chemicals still on it.

What do I do if something in my house carries this warning?

Don’t panic. Try to find out what you can by going to the manufacturer first. Most products come with ingredients labels (some plastics do not), so Google those chemicals and see what comes up. I would say it’s better to be safe than sorry and try to avoid buying these products as much as possible, especially when these products are around pets and small children. But you have to make an informed decision for yourself. After all, that was the intention of the law.

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