Monday, May 26, 2008

Crash Course on California Prop 65

In 1986, California voters approved the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, known as Proposition 65. The purpose of Prop 65 is to ensure that people are informed about exposure to chemicals that have been determined by the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and/or other reproductive harm.

Any product shipping into California which contain these chemicals is required to carry a Prop 65 warning label. Some of the most popular promotional products — including many mugs, plastic goods, and electronics — require such warnings. Even some "green" products, such as those made with high recycled content, are subject to Prop 65 warnings because they may contain trace chemicals from their former life.

As a result, the promotional industry has been abuzz with complaints about Prop 65.

We recently met the owner of a large promotional products supplier from the midwest who complained bitterly that Prop 65 was total overkill and required labeling in California was beginning to harm his business. What he neglected to consider, I guess, is that the potentially dangerous chemicals in his products could harm the individuals who use them. Chemicals from all sorts of products are leaching into our water system (and our bodies) at alarming rates, and cancer incidents continue to rise.

Information is better than ignorance, and everyone has the right to know if the goods they are using or giving away may have a risk, however minimal. Laws like Prop 65 may be a pain to some, but they force manufacturers to rethink the way they do things and they ultimately create change that is good for people and the planet.

We support responsible manufacturers and distributors who investigate safer ways to produce products using alternative materials and processes that don't require a warning label. We advocate full disclosure on chemicals, even though it's often difficult to get this information from manufacturers.

If you're looking for promotional goods that won't go out with a scary label, the good news is that there are many greener, more sustainable and safer alternatives. You can have them sourced through our partner site, eco imprints.

If you want a little more info on Prop 65, here's a simple Q & A that we hope you'll find useful.

1. What is California Prop 65?

Answer: Prop 65 is a law that went into effect in 1986 in California that prohibits the distribution of products into the State of California where that product contains one or more of approximately 750 commonly occurring substances determined by the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm unless the company that distributes the product into California places a properly worded warning on it.

2. What products does Prop 65 apply to?

Answer: All products distributed into the State of California. Prop 65 does not apply to products that are not distributed into the State of California. However, to minimize legal liability, some manufacturers now place Prop 65 notices on products that deliver to states outside of California.

3. What chemicals are cited by the State of California as causing cancer or reproductive harm?

Answer: The State of California maintains a list of those chemicals. From time to time the list is changed to add chemicals and, less frequently, to delete chemicals. Currently there are approximately 750 chemicals on that list. Additional chemicals have been proposed for addition to this list.

4. How much of a chemical needs to be present before a company must provide a warning?

Answer: Prop 65 requires a warning if one of the following NRSL or NOEL thresholds is met:

A) When a person is exposed to a chemical at more than the “No Significant Risk Level” (NRSL). If a person is exposed to a chemical at the NRSL for 70 years that person would have no more than a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing cancer as a result of that exposure.

B) When a person is exposed to a chemical at more than 1/1,000 of the “No Observable Effect Level” (NOEL). The NOEL is the level determined by the State of California to pose no reproductive harm to humans or lab animals.

5. Has the State of California established a NRSL or NOEL threshold for all of the chemicals they list?

Answer: No, no all of the listed chemicals have NRSL or NOEL thresholds.

6. How are warnings given?

Answer: Warnings may be given in a variety of ways such as by labeling the product or its package, placing a warning slip in the packaging for the product, or printing on the packaging in some other fashion. The placement of the warning depends upon the nature of the product and its packaging.

7. What must the warning state?

Answer: A proper warning must state in clear, reasonable and legible language that the product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Warnings that only state that the product contains a chemical that “may” cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm have been found to be insufficient.

8. Where can I get more information about Prop 65?

Answer: The State of California has a website that you can check out here — or you can call (916) 445-6900 for more details.