What is this warning?

Sometimes you will see a product for sale that has a label with a warning along the lines of the following:

WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm - www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.

The warnings is required by California labeling law Proposition 65 (or Prop 65 for short), which is meant to notify individuals in California of exposures to Prop 65-listed chemicals. Prop 65 does not ban the sale of any products containing these chemicals; it only requires warnings.  Moreover, a Prop 65 warning does not mean a product is in violation of any product-safety standards or requirements. In fact, the California government has clarified that a Prop 65 warning “is not the same as a regulatory decision that a product is ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’.”  See https://oag.ca.gov/prop65/faqs-view-all.

What is Prop 65?

Prop 65 is broad law that applies to any company operating in California, selling products in California, or manufacturing products that may be sold in or brought into California. It mandates that the Governor of California maintain and publish a list of chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects and/or other reproductive harm. The list, which must be updated annually, includes a wide variety of chemicals that can be found in many everyday items. The purpose of Prop 65 is to ensure that people are informed about exposure to these chemicals.

Prop 65 also requires warnings to be placed on any product, product packaging, or literature accompanying a product that contains or may contain any of the hundreds of chemicals that the State of California considers harmful. Many of the chemicals listed under Prop 65 have been routinely used in everyday products for years without documented harm.

A Prop 65 warning generally means one of two things: (1) a business has evaluated the exposure and has concluded that it exceeds the “no significant risk level”; or (2) a business has chosen to provide a warning simply based on its knowledge or understanding about the presence of a listed chemical without attempting to evaluate the exposure. 

Does this law apply everywhere?

Prop 65 warnings are only required under California law.  Prop 65 warnings are seen throughout California in a wide range of settings -- in restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, schools, hospitals, and on a wide variety of products. In addition, some Internet and mail order retailers have chosen to provide Prop 65 warnings on their websites or in catalogs for all their products and for all consumers.  Prop 65 standards are among the most stringent standards in place anywhere and are often far more stringent than federal standards.

How do the California warnings compare to federal limits?

It should be noted that California product label warning requirements are not usually the same as federal safety requirements. This causes a variance between warnings on products sold in California and what is required elsewhere in the U.S.A and other parts of the world. This can explain why sometimes you may see a Prop 65 warning on a product sold in California but no warning on the same product sold elsewhere. The products are not different but Prop 65 warnings are required for sales in California .

Additionally, there are various substances that require a Prop 65 warning at levels that are far more stringent than federal action limits. One example is lead. The Prop 65 standard for warnings for lead is 0.5 micrograms per day, which is far more stringent than federal and international standards for lead.

Why don’t all similar products carry the warning?

There could be a variety of reasons. If a company has been involved in a Prop 65 lawsuit, and if that company reaches a settlement, that settlement may require Prop 65 warnings for products. Other companies that are not involved in the settlement, although they may nonetheless sell similar products, may not provide a warning on their product. Because of inconsistent Prop 65 enforcement, this sometimes explains why you will see certain products in the market with warnings, and virtually identical products without warnings. Other companies may elect not to provide warnings because, in their assessment, they conclude that they are not required to do so under Prop 65 standards. A lack of warnings for a product does not necessarily mean that the product is free of the same substances at similar levels.

Why does [Brand Name] include this warning?

[Brand Name] believes the best practice is to provide consumers with as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about the products they purchase and use.   [Brand Name] has chosen to provide warnings in certain cases based on its knowledge about the presence of one or more listed chemicals without attempting to evaluate the level of exposure, as not all of the listed chemicals provide exposure limit requirements.  With[Brand Name]’s products, the exposure may be negligible or well within the “no significant risk” range. However, out of an abundance of caution, [Brand Name]  has elected to provide the Prop 65 warnings.  Moreover, if [Brand Name] does not provide these warnings it can be sued by the State of California or by private parties who seek to enforce Prop 65 and subject to substantial penalties.