May 27, 2014

Have you ever wondered whether all those Prop 65 warning signs make a difference? SF Bay Area PSR thinks they do, not only by informing people about the presence of harmful chemicals in certain areas but also by creating market incentives for manufacturers to discontinue using chemicals that cause cancer and reproductive harm. Because of these outcomes, SF Bay Area PSR opposed AB 2361 (Jones-R), a California bill that that would have weakened Prop 65 implementation.

In 1986, California voters approved Proposition 65, which became the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (CA Health and Safety Code §§ 25249.5-25249.13). Addressing Californians’ growing concerns about exposures to harmful chemicals, Prop 65 requires the state of California to maintain a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list, which must be updated at least once a year, currently includes approximately 800 chemicals.

Prop 65 requires businesses to warn Californians about listed chemicals in their homes or workplaces, in the products they purchase, or that are released into the environment. Prop 65 isn’t just about signs, though. It helps protect California’s drinking water by prohibiting businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of chemicals on the Prop 65 list into drinking water sources.

Prop 65 is an important right-to-know law that helps protect the health of Californians.

Because of Prop 65, Californians are given information to reduce exposures to potentially harmful chemicals and protect their health. For example, Prop 65 contributed to greater awareness of the dangers of alcoholic beverage consumption during pregnancy. And while you may think that Prop 65 doesn’t go far enough to reduce the use of harmful chemicals, the warning requirement does create strong market incentives for manufacturers to remove chemicals from their products that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Trichloroethylene, a Prop 65-listed carcinogen, is no longer used in most correction fluids; and reformulated paint strippers no longer contain the carcinogen methylene chloride.

San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility opposed AB 2361 because it would have significantly undermined the health-protective warning requirements of Prop 65.

Under current law, all businesses with less than 10 employees are exempt from the warning requirement and the discharge prohibition, as are government agencies. And small businesses and government are not the only ones that get special treatment under Prop 65. Due to recently enacted legislation, restaurants, bars, parking garages and others can get away with paying a total fine of just $500 for failing to properly warn its customers or employees, if they correct the violation within 14 days. Generally, penalties for violating Proposition 65 notification requirements can be as high as $2,500 per violation per day. This “right to correct” eliminates the financial incentive to comply with Prop 65.

AB 2361 would have further expanded the “right to correct” to all businesses with less than 25 employees. Many companies with 10 to 25 employees sell or manufacture products and provide them to a range of retailers. By further eliminating financial incentives to comply with prop 65, AB 2361 would have resulted in a flood of dangerous products without any warnings in California’s marketplace.

Prop 65 is a critical component of ensuring Californians’ right to know and to protect themselves from harmful chemical exposures. In the future, SF Bay Area PSR will continue to stand against undermining this important law.

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