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California Proposition 65 (1986)

Proposition 65 (formally titled "The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986") is a California law passed by direct voter initiative in 1986 by a 63%-37% vote. Its goals are to protect drinking water sources from toxic substances that may cause cancer and birth defects and to reduce or eliminate exposures to those chemicals generally, for example in consumer products, by requiring warnings in advance of those exposures.

Proposition 65 is administered by Cal/EPA's California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).[1] Proposition 65 regulates substances officially listed by California as having a 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer over a 70-year period or birth defects or other reproductive harm in two ways. The first statutory requirement of Proposition 65 prohibits businesses from knowingly discharging listed substances into drinking water sources, or onto land where the substances can pass into drinking water sources. The second prohibits businesses from knowingly exposing individuals to listed substances without providing a clear and reasonable warning.

Since enactment, Proposition 65 has been the reason for reformulation of many consumer products to eliminate traces of elements and compounds covered by Proposition 65, as well as other significant changes to reduce exposures such as toxic air emissions. In some cases consumer products have been relabeled to show specific toxic ingredients, but reformulation has been far more common, and in general has occurred nationwide rather than only in California.

An official list of substances covered by Proposition 65 is maintained and made publicly available. Chemicals are added to or removed from the official list based on California's analysis of current scientific information. All substances listed show their known risk factors, a unique CAS chemical classification number, the date they were listed, and, if so, whether they have been delisted.[2]

Proposition 65 remains politically controversial even after 25 years, in large part because, in effect, it puts the burden of proof on business instead of government to make a key scientific determination about safety levels for specific toxic chemicals that the businesses are knowingly exposing members of the public to.[3] According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, "Proposition 65 has... increased public awareness about the adverse effects of exposures to listed chemicals.... [and] provided an incentive for manufacturers to remove listed chemicals from their products.... Although Proposition 65 has benefited Californians, it has come at a cost for companies doing business in the state."[4] The law has also been criticized for the proliferation of "bounty hunter" lawsuits. Attorneys have collected more than two-thirds of the money paid by businesses to settle Proposition 65 lawsuits since 2000.[5][6]

Proposition 65's effectiveness also remains controversial, with some pointing out the lack of any studies suggesting a decrease in cancer rates in the state.[7]


  • Rationale and enumerated rights 1
  • Enforcement 2
  • Warning label 3
  • Abuse 4
  • Recent reform efforts 5
  • Reformulation of consumer goods 6
    • Summary of settlements 6.1
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Rationale and enumerated rights

In addition to amending the California Health and Safety Code, Proposition 65 contained the following language in the 1986 ballot initiative:[8]

SECTION 1. The people of California find that hazardous chemicals pose a serious potential threat to their health and well-being, that state government agencies have failed to provide them with adequate protection, and that these failures have been serious enough to lead to investigations by federal agencies of the administration of California's toxic protection programs. The people therefore declare their rights:
(a) To protect themselves and the water they drink against chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.
(b) To be informed about exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.
(c) To secure strict enforcement of the laws controlling hazardous chemicals and deter actions that threaten public health and safety.
(d) To shift the cost of hazardous waste cleanups more onto offenders and less onto law-abiding citizens.
The people hereby enact the provisions of this initiative in furtherance of their rights.

The Legislature's 2003 amendments to Proposition 65 contained the statement that the changes "further the purposes of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986."[9]


Enforcement is carried out through civil lawsuits against Proposition 65 violators. These lawsuits may be brought by the California Attorney General, any district attorney, or certain city attorneys (those in cities with a population exceeding 750,000). Lawsuits may also be brought by private parties "acting in the public interest," but only after providing notice of the alleged violation to the Attorney General, the appropriate district attorney and city attorney, and the business accused of the violation.

A Proposition 65 Notice of Violation must provide adequate information to allow the recipient to assess the nature of the alleged violation. A notice must comply with the information and procedural requirements specified in regulations. A private party may not pursue an enforcement action directly under Proposition 65 if one of the government officials noted above initiates an action within sixty days of the notice. After 2003, private enforcers must also serve a certificate of merit (statement of expert consultation(s) supporting belief of reasonable and meritorious private action) as a means of preventing frivolous enforcement actions.

A business found to be in violation of Proposition 65 is subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. In addition, the business may be ordered by a court of law to stop committing the violation.[10] Other penalties may apply, including unfair business practices violations as limited under California Proposition 64 (2004).

Businesses can become compliant by learning upfront whether or not their products contain chemicals that match the current Proposition 65 list of 910 chemicals. Users can do this by searching in a Microsoft Excel[11] chemical list or a website offering the search by chemical name or CAS Number.[12] Product manufacturers may also learn if a chemical in their products has been removed from the Proposition 65 list, such as Saccharin, removed December 2010.[13] Alternatively, they can post generic Prop 65 warnings just in case their products contain any listed chemicals.

Warning label

California Proposition 65 Warning

The following warning language is standard on products sold in California if they contain chemicals on the Proposition 65 list and the amount of exposure caused by the product is not within defined safety limits.

WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

The wording can be changed as necessary, so long as it communicates that the chemical in question is known to the state to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm. For exposures from other sources, such as car exhaust in a parking garage, a standard sign might read: "This area contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm".[14]

A vague Prop 65 warning sign at Disneyland Resort.

Some businesses in the state post similar notices on their premises, even when they have not evaluated the actual level of risk from a listed chemical they know is present.[15] Warning signs are often posted at gas stations,[16] hardware suppliers,[17] grocery stores, drug stores, medical facilities, and many other businesses.[18][19] Government agencies,[20] parking garages, hotels,[19] apartment complexes,[21] retail stores,[22] banks, and restaurants[23] also post warning signs because of the possibility of hazardous chemicals being present in everyday items or the nearby environment. Some large businesses, such as utility companies, mail a Prop 65 notice to all customers each year to warn them of dangerous substances like natural gas[24] or the sand used in sandblasting.[25]

There is no penalty for posting an unnecessary warning sign.[26] Because of the overuse of the vague warning, the ubiquitous signs ultimately communicate very little information to the end user.[16][27] This problem has been recognized by California courts,[28][29] advocates,[16][30] and businesses.[19]


Political controversy over the law, including industry attempts to have it preempted by federal law, have died down. However, enforcement actions remain controversial. Most of the Proposition 65 complaints are filed on behalf of straw man plaintiffs by private attorneys, some of whose businesses are built entirely on filing Proposition 65 lawsuits.[28][31][32]

Proposition 65 has also been criticized because the majority of settlement money collected from businesses has been used to pay plaintiffs' attorney fees.[33] Businesses paid over $14.58 million in attorney fees and costs in 2012, 71% of all settlement money paid.[34]

Labeling requirements conceded the reality that listing and classifying substances did not help the consumer if the contents of a purchase were unknown. At the same time, there were no other labeling requirements to support the proposition. Industry critics and corporate defense lawyers charge that Proposition 65 is "a clever and irritating mechanism used by litigious NGOs and others to publicly spank politically incorrect opponents ranging from the American gun industry to seafood retailers, etc."[35]

In addition, because the law allows private citizens to sue and collect damages from any business violating the law, there have been cases of lawyers and law firms using Proposition 65 to force monetary settlements out of California businesses.[36] The Attorney General's office has cited several instances of settlements where plaintiff attorneys received significant awards without providing for environmental benefit to the people of California, resulting in the requirement of the Attorney General's approval of pre-trial Proposition 65 settlements.[37] The Attorney General also objected to efforts in settlements between private parties to pre-empt the Attorney General's right and duty to protect the public interest against future violations.[28]

Recent reform efforts

In 2013, a consensus bill, AB 227, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), effectively offered to protect certain small companies in specified circumstances from the threat of citizen enforcement lawsuits, by providing them with a streamlined compliance procedure. The bill was passed unanimously and was enacted on October 10, 2013.[38]

Following the success of AB 227, Gov. Jerry Brown announced on May 7, 2013 that his office plans to introduce a proposal to reform Proposition 65.[39] Since Brown's initial announcement, his office has held meetings with Proposition 65 stakeholders, but has been tight-lipped about what was accomplished by the meetings. According to Cal/EPA Secretary Matthew Rodriquez, the Governor's office plans to release a white paper after concluding its stakeholder meetings. The white paper may form the basis of a legislative proposal by the Governor.

Assembly Bill 1252, introduced by Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee) during the 2015-2016 legislative session, proposed giving small businesses two weeks to fix violations before a lawsuit can be filed. The legislation died in committee.

Reformulation of consumer goods

Over the years, Prop 65 has led to consent agreements for a variety of consumer products, such as bibs, bicycles, products containing brass, cookware, cosmetics, exercise mats, ceramic ware and glassware, clothing, fake leather upholstery, headphone cables, jewelry, lunchboxes, poker chips, luggage, and accessories.

In early 2011, a number of new Prop 65[40] consent agreements were reported, covering vinyl inflatable structures, vinyl lounge chairs, inspection lights with clamp handles, brass door handles, cadmium in jewelry and a revised judgment for fashion accessories.

In the latter part of 2011, further consent agreements were reported. These included reformulation of up to 1000 ppm DEHP for book covers and jackets. Further reformulations for lead content also concluded. For fashion jackets and belts with components that can be handled, touched or mouthed, two tests are necessary for compliance: less than 1.0 µg lead using method NIOSH 9100 and less than 100 ppm lead using EPA 3050B.

More recently, since December 2011 and during the first half of 2012, a further number of consent settlements for Prop 65 have been concluded, enforcing reformulation of a range of additional products by specifying the limits of heavy metals and organic chemicals.

Summary of settlements

In externally decorated glassware the cadmium and lead content are limited, with lower concentrations permitted for the lip or rim region. Lead content is also restricted in ceramic ware with exterior decorations, booster cables, and safety pins in varying concentrations. In the case of safety pins the preliminary limit is 300 ppm for 2012, but a much lower limit of 100 ppm will come into force in 2013. For the grips of hand tools the content of lead and certain phthalates are restricted. Various specific phthalates are also restricted in varying concentrations in notepads with vinyl coverings, purses, slippers, flip flops with rhinestones and similar plastic footwear, ear buds and headsets, and exercise/fitness mats. Restriction on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is defined for smoothing solution products, and in this case a specific warning is mandatory in the material safety data sheets if the product releases detectable amounts of formaldehyde.

See also


  1. ^ "California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment". Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  2. ^ OEHHA list of substances as of January, 2015
  3. ^ If a "no significant effect" level has been established for a cancer-causing chemical listed under Prop. 65, then no warning is required as long as the actual exposure is below that level. But it is up to the business causing the exposure to know what that level is, and to do the scientific analysis if government has not already done so.
  4. ^ Proposition 65 FAQ California Environmental Protection Agency Accessed 25 October 2012
  5. ^ [2] Orange County Register Accessed 15 September 2015
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Caution: This Warning May Be Useless". Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  8. ^ Prop. 65 ballot pamphlet full text from Hastings' California Ballot Measures Databases
  9. ^ "AB 1756 of 2003" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  10. ^ "Proposition 65". California Cleaners Association. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "PROPOSITION 65 LIST". Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  13. ^ "Saccharin Removed from EPA’s Hazardous Substance List". 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  14. ^ "CA Proposition 65 Signs". InfoTag, Inc. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  15. ^ "Prop 65 Made Simple". Prop 65 News. 2005. Retrieved 2008-07-22. When a warning is given by a business, it means one of two things: (1) the business has evaluated the exposure and has concluded that it exceeds the no significant risk level; or (2) the business has chosen to provide a warning simply based on its knowledge about the presence of a listed chemical, without attempting to evaluate the exposure. In these cases, exposure could be below the Proposition 65 level of concern, or could even be zero. 
  16. ^ a b c Written Testimony of Jeffrey B. Margulies. Proposition 65’s Effect on Small Businesses. In the United States House of Representatives, Committee on Small Business. October 28, 1999. "Implications for consumers. While the intent of Prop 65 was to "inform" consumers, the impact of warnings under the Act has been a proliferation of meaningless warnings. Virtually every business has some sort of Prop 65 warning sign posted, and innumerable products are labeled with the warning. From gas stations to hotels, from grocery stores to hardware stores, consumers are deluged with warnings that they are being exposed to unnamed carcinogens and reproductive toxins. They are not told either the degree of exposure or the likelihood that they may actually be impacted by it. Moreover, because the risks to business of not providing a warning, many provide a warning even though they don’t actually know whether an exposure is occurring, or even if the exposure is trivial, further diluting the meaning of warnings to consumers.
  17. ^ Watts Water Technologies, Inc. "California Proposition 65". 
  18. ^ Kaweah Delta Health Care District. "Electronic Devices". 
  19. ^ a b c "California Hotel & Lodging Association Helps Lodging Guests Understand Proposition 65; Court Approval Obtained for Comprehensive Compliance Procedure" (Press release). California Hotel & Lodging Association. 2004-07-07. Retrieved 2008-07-22. "Unfortunately, the 'safe harbor' warning-sign language specified under Proposition 65 is designed to be so all-encompassing that it is vague and typically doesn't provide much useful information," said Jim Abrams, president and CEO of CH&LA. "People see Prop. 65 warning signs nearly every place they go -- grocery and hardware stores, restaurants, commercial buildings, car show rooms, hotels and inns, pretty much everywhere... 
  20. ^ Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. "Comparison of the Warning Requirement and the Government Employee Disclosure Requirement". California Environmental Protection Agency. 
  21. ^ Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. "Proposition 65 Fact Sheet for Tenants". California Environmental Protection Agency. 
  22. ^ "California Proposition 65". 
  23. ^ Lucas, Greg (2005-05-25). "Cancer label for foods is considered". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  24. ^ "July 2008 bill inserts". Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Retrieved 2008-07-22. Pacific Gas and Electric Company uses chemicals in its operations that are "known to the State of California" to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. For example, Pacific Gas and Electric Company uses natural gas and petroleum products in its operations. Pacific Gas and Electric Company also delivers natural gas to its customers. Petroleum products, natural gas, and their combustion by-products contain chemicals "known to the State of California" to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. 
  25. ^ "Proposition 65 – Public Warning" (PDF). Pacific Gas and Electric Company. April 2004. p. 4. Archived from the original (pdf) on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  26. ^ "Proposition 65 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986".  
  27. ^ Consumer Defense Group v. Rental Housing Industry Members, 40 Cal Rptr 3d 832 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist. Div. 3 2006-03-24) (“Given the ease with which it was brought, and the absolute lack of any real public benefit from telling people that things like dried paint may be slowly emitting lead molecules or that parking lots are places where there might be auto exhaust, instead of $540,000, this legal work merited an award closer to a dollar ninety-eight.”).
  28. ^ a b c Consumer Defense Group v. Rental Housing Industry Members, 40 Cal Rptr 3d 832 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist. Div. 3 2006-03-24) (“As the Attorney General pointed out in oral argument, it does not serve the public interest to have the almost the entirety of the state of California "swamped in a sea [of] generic warning signs."”).
  29. ^ Pamela A. MacLean (2006-04-13). "Calif. Judge Blasts Firm in Toxic-Warnings Case". The National Law Journal. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  30. ^ Indira Nair and Detlof von Winterfeldt. "Equity and Environmental Justice Considerations in Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-07-22. This is to be contrasted with Prop. 65 warning experience where the public received meaningless warnings filled with disclaimers, information that trivializes risk, and fails to put it into context. 
  31. ^ "Defending the Proposition 65 Bounty Hunter Case". 2007-12-29. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  32. ^ Dorothy Pomerantz (2001-10-15). "Toxic Avengers -". Forbes. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  33. ^ "CALIFORNIA’S ATTORNEY GENERAL ACKNOWLEDGES PROP 65 ABUSE" (PDF). 2007-07-27. Retrieved 2015-05-13. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "NGO Strategies for 2004 and Beyond". Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  36. ^ "Cal. Attorney General news alert, paragraph 10". 2005-08-26. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  37. ^ Chapter 3 - Settlement Guidelines, Cal. Attorney General's Proposition 65 regulations
  38. ^ "Bill Text - AB-227 Proposition 65: enforcement". 2002-01-01. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  39. ^ "Gov. Brown Announces Proposition 65 Reform Proposal". Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  40. ^

External links

  • Official Proposition 65 website
  • Official Proposition 65 list of substances
  • Proposition 65 updates
  • California Attorney General - Proposition 65 regulations
  • -Toxic Avengers, Morse Mehrban gets rich from Proposition 65
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