Assessing Risk: Proposition 65 Educational Information
What Is Proposition 65?
The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65,
requires the Governor of California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer,
birth defects, or other reproductive harms. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard
Assessment (OEHHA) coordinates research related to the listing of chemicals, as a division
of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA). Prop. 65 imposes controls on
listed substances to help protect the California public from exposure via drinking water,
in the workplace, and from consumer products generally.
In addition to prohibiting businesses from knowingly discharging listed chemicals into
drinking water sources, Prop. 65 requires businesses to post a "clear and reasonable"
warning that consumers may be exposed to a listed chemical.
For the listing of a carcinogen, OEHHA uses a 1 in 100,000 risk level as a benchmark
for determination of an appropriate exposure value that will protect public health.
This exposure value termed a No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) is the level of exposure
to the substance (generally in micrograms) per day over a lifetime that will not result
in an elevated cancer risk. In other words, if 100,000 individuals were exposed to a
substance at the NSRL for their lifetimes, only one individual would be expected to have
a cancer attributable to that substance.
For the listing of chemicals as reproductive or developmental toxicants, OEHHA uses a
Maximum Allowable Daily Level (MADL) representing the No Observable Adverse Effect Level
(NOAEL) times a factor of 1,000 for added protection. The NOAEL is the level (generally
in micrograms) per day of the substance, which has been shown either through animal or
human studies to present no adverse reproductive or developmental effects.
How it Works
Any individual or organization in California may contribute to the listing of a substance
under Prop. 65. This can be accomplished through written or verbal comments to OEHHA
during designated periods of public comment on considered substances. In addition, the
public may sue private companies to provide warning labels on products containing a listed
substance, or on the site where exposure may occur.
If a company can prove that their facility or product does not expose the public to a listed
substance in excess of the NSRL or MADL, no warning statements are required. However, if a
product or facility is found to expose the public to a listed substance at a level exceeding
the NSRL or MADL, they may face severe financial penalties. These fines offset the legal costs
for plaintiffs, and are distributed to public interest organizations (such as CETOS) that are
working to better protect public health from exposure to substances that may cause cancer or
adverse reproductive/developmental effects.
What CETOS does
Our organization consults with members of the public, other public interest organizations,
and plaintiff attorneys (generally representing the People of California) involved with
Prop. 65 related litigation. CETOS conducts risk assessments, and offers scientifically
credible evaluations of the public health threat posed by listed and yet to be listed substances.
Additionally, through independent risk evaluations, CETOS works to identify products that have
yet to be recognized as posing a significant hazard.
Some of the cases we have worked on:
- Southern California fish contaminated with Mercury, PCBs & DDT
- Lawn & garden fertilizers/supplements containing Arsenic, Lead & Cadmium
- Public & private drinking water systems contaminated with MTBE, Malathion & Diesel
- Lead contamination of water pipes, light bulbs, crystal ware, stained glass, roofing tiles & car batteries
- Herbal and dietary supplements containing Mercury, Cadmium, Arsenic & Lead
- Tobacco Smoke contamination of hotel facilities
- Asphalt & Creosote release from road paving operations
- Plastic water pipes leaching DEHP
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