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What Is the Significance of California's Proposition 65 to Safety Regulations?



In 1986, Californians voted on and approved an initiative regarding their concerns about toxic chemical exposure in their state. The initiative became what is popularly called "Proposition 65" or the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. Proposition 65 is actually the statute's original name. The act mandates that the state of California must publish a listing of those chemicals and substances that are known to cause birth defects, reproductive harm, or cancer. That chemicals listing is to be updated at least one time annually. What started modestly has now grown to encompass more than 800 chemicals since its origins in 1987.

Who Enforces Proposition 65?

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is charged with the task of administration for the Proposition 65 program in California. OEHHA is part of California's Environmental Protection Agency. The office also is tasked with the responsibility of evaluating and assessing all scientific information, research, and data on the various substances that are reviewed for potential placement on the list of prohibited chemicals and substances under Proposition 65.

What Does Proposition 65 Require?

The proposition requires businesses within the state to alert residents about significant amounts of chemicals in consumer products they may buy for use in their homes and at work. It also requires disclosure of the release of large amounts of chemicals into the environment. Finally, Proposition 65 further prohibits businesses operating within the state from knowingly discharging large amounts of banned chemicals into drinking water sources for the public. Because of these mandated disclosures, California residents are able to make informed and educated decisions about how to best protect and safeguard themselves from potentially harmful exposure to such chemicals and substances.

What Specific Safety Requirements Does Proposition 65 Place on California Businesses?

California businesses must give a "clear and reasonable" warning under Proposition 65 before they knowingly and intentionally expose any party to a chemical listed on the banned inventory. The required warning can be made in any number of ways, such as by:

  • placing a label on a consumer product;
  • posting a sign in a prominent location in a company work site
  • disseminating a notice at an apartment, townhouse, or condominium complex
  • published notices widely for general distribution to all subscribers of a newspaper
  • publishing the warning electronically in the appropriate circumstances, contexts, and settings

After a chemical is added to the proscribed listing, the businesses within California have one calendar year to comply with Proposition 65's warning requirements. As the proposition pertains to prohibitions against discharging listed chemicals and substances into drinking water sources knowingly, California businesses have a longer compliance period available to them. Once a proscribed chemical or substance is added to the list, a business has 20 months to come into compliance with the discharge ban provisions of the proposition.