The New and Improved Prop 65? Maybe, Maybe Not 

Have you shopped for jewelry, cosmetics, furniture, or exercise equipment recently? If so, you have most likely come across a Proposition 65 warning sticker.   

If you are unsure of whether the warning label should keep you from buying a product, you are not alone. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed changes to the California-based law earlier this year that have arguably added to the confusion.   

Here is a breakdown of Proposition 65 and what you need to know moving forward.   

Proposition 65 has actually been around a while.  

Even though it may seem like Prop 65 warning labels are a new thing, they have actually been around since the 1980s.  

Originally called the Safe Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, the law was passed in 1986 to educate Californians of toxins in drinking water. In the years following, the proposition morphed into a law that warned American consumers about products containing chemicals that could lead to cancer, reproductive harm, or birth defects. In California, sellers with over 10 employees whose products contain any of the proposition’s 800 listed toxins are required to show a clear warning to buyers.  

Warning labels are on just about everything these days.  

Thinking about grabbing fast food for lunch? You may notice a Proposition 65 warning label on the menu. A chemical called acrylamide is most commonly found in foods like French fries and potato chips and can potentially cause male reproductive harm, cancer, and has even been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.   

You will also find a warning label when purchasing certain perfumes, as some contain alpha-Methyl styrene, a toxin that can cause female reproductive harm.  

You will even find warning labels on products such as stationary exercise bikes, bathing suits, furniture, and jewelry.  

What is changing?   

Among the changes within Prop 65, sellers may need to start changing the verbiage and format of their short-form warning the most commonly used warning label.   

According to the proposition, sellers must provide a “clear and reasonable” warning; however, the factors determining what is clear and reasonable could soon change. The proposed changes include eliminating short form warnings for online and catalog labels and specifically labeling at least one chemical within the product which has not been previously required. Additionally, short-form warnings may only be allowed in label spaces of five square inches or smaller.  

With hefty fines attached to seller non-compliance, these changes could mean more stress and frustration for companies — especially those who are unfamiliar with the law in the first place.   

However, on the positive side for sellers, acrylamide could soon be exempt from needing a warning label. This is because the chemical is not added to foods, but instead is made naturally when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures.   

Should warning labels prevent you from making a purchase?  

“A consumer can seek information about the actual levels of exposure in order to decide whether to accept, avoid, or take measures to mitigate the exposure risk,” said the CDOJ on their Frequently Asked Questions page.  

Unfortunately, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to this question. Even though a product you are thinking of purchasing contains an eerie Proposition 65 warning label, the State of California Department of Justice encourages consumers to do their own research and decide what is best.  

By: Rebekah Harcrow