What is Proposition 65?

(from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment - Rev. 2/03)

In 1986, California voters approved an initiative to address their growing concerns about exposure to toxic chemicals. That initiative became the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known by its original name of Proposition 65. Proposition 65 requires the State 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 approximately 750 chemicals since it was first published in 1987.

Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. By providing this information, Proposition 65 enables Californians to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from exposure to these chemicals. Proposition 65 also prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) administers the Proposition 65 program. OEHHA, which is part of the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA), also evaluates all currently available scientific information on substances considered for placement on the Proposition 65 list.

What types of chemicals are on the Proposition 65 list?
The list contains a wide range of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. These chemicals include additives or ingredients in pesticides, common household products, food, drugs, dyes, or solvents. Listed chemicals may also be used in manufacturing and construction, or they may be byproducts of chemical processes, such as motor vehicle exhaust.

How is a chemical added to the list?
There are three principal ways for a chemical to be added to the Proposition 65 list. A chemical can be listed if either of two independent committees of scientists and health professionals finds that the chemical has been clearly shown to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. These two committees-the Carcinogen Identification Committee (CIC) and the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant (DART) Identification Committee-are part of OEHHA's Science Advisory Board. The committee members are appointed by the Governor and are designated as the "State's Qualified Experts" for evaluating chemicals under Proposition 65. When determining whether a chemical should be placed on the list, the committees base their decisions on the most current scientific information available. OEHHA staff scientists compile all relevant scientific evidence on various chemicals for the committees to review. The committees also consider comments from the public before making their decisions.

A second way for a chemical to be listed is if an organization designated as an "authoritative body" by the CIC or DART Identification Committee has identified it as causing cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. The following organizations have been designated as authoritative bodies: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Toxicology Program, and International Agency for Research on Cancer.

A third way for a chemical to be listed is if an agency of the state or federal government requires that it be labeled or identified as causing cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. Most chemicals listed in this manner are prescription drugs that are required by the U.S. FDA to contain warnings relating to cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

In addition to these three listing procedures, Proposition 65 also requires the listing of chemicals meeting certain scientific criteria and identified in the California Labor Code as causing cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This method was used to establish the initial chemical list following voter approval of Proposition 65 in 1986.

What requirements does Proposition 65 place on companies doing business in California?
Businesses are required to provide a "clear and reasonable" warning before knowingly and intentionally exposing anyone to a listed chemical. This warning can be given by a variety of means, such as by labeling a consumer product, posting signs at the workplace, distributing notices at a rental housing complex, or publishing notices in a newspaper. Once a chemical is listed, businesses have 12 months to comply with warning requirements.

Proposition 65 also prohibits companies that do business within California from knowingly discharging listed chemicals into sources of drinking water. Once a chemical is listed, businesses have 20 months to comply with the discharge prohibition.

Businesses with less than 10 employees and government agencies are exempt from Proposition 65's warning requirements and prohibition on discharges into drinking water sources. Businesses are also exempt from the warning requirement and discharge prohibition if the exposures they cause are so low as to create no significant risk of cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. Health risks are explained in more detail below.

What does a warning mean?
If a warning is placed on a product label or posted or distributed at the workplace, a business, or in rental housing, the business issuing the warning is aware or believes that one or more listed chemicals is present. 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.

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.