Recently, a lot of people have found labels warning them of the risk of cancer and reproductive harm on products they’ve purchased. Interestingly, this label is only found in California. The labels mention a specific term, “Prop 65” or “P65”.
This has led a lot of people to question whether it is safe to use products that have the Prop 65 label or not. Today, I aim to clarify the origin, purpose, and implications of the Prop 65 label to you. So, let’s get started!
What is Prop 65?
Prop 65 was a ballot initiative and it was voted into the state law of California more than 30 years back. Its official name is the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.
At that time, there were a series of oil spills and chemical contaminations that directly affected the water supply of California. Prop 65 was then voted to protect the denizens of California from water pollutants.
According to OEHHA or California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Prop 65 requires businesses to attach warning labels to their products, should they pose any significant exposure to chemicals causing birth defects, reproductive damage, or cancer.
Initially, the law was only applicable to drinking water, because the whole issue arose due to unsafe drinking water. However, now the law extends to any product that may be putting the consumer at the aforementioned risk.
However, a business is only required to put up the label when one or more harmful chemical is present in a quantity above the safety level in a specific product.
In California laws, there is a list of chemicals that are considered as harmful. The Prop 65 law went into effect back in 1988, and back then the list contained only 235 chemicals. However, the list is ever-growing as they’re required to update it every year. Now, there are over 900 chemicals listed as harmful. If a product contains any of these 900 chemicals over safety limits, it must contain a Prop 65 warning.
There’s a common confusion between this list of chemicals and the chemicals listed by the FDA or Food and Drug Administration. The list from FDA is widely accepted, but the California requirement list is much more comprehensive. So, they follow this instead for Prop 65.
It must be noted that Prop 65 is very different from other standards such as SCIP or Reach. Learn more about SCIP vs REACH here.
Why Are We Seeing More Prop 65 Labels than Previously?
We know that Prop 65 law was enacted around 30 years back, so why has it become so visible only now? The reasons behind this are:
E-Commerce and Lawsuits
Although the law has existed for a while, it didn’t include online sales until 2018. In 2018, the law was updated and it required websites that sell products online to add Prop 65 labels to qualified products.
Also, the law was enforced much more strictly, resulting in a number of lawsuits. This led businesses to take the initiative more seriously, which increased the number of labels on the market.
Recently, a lot of companies that aren’t necessarily native to California, have also started putting these labels. This is because e-commerce has blurred the state lines and a company from Texas might have to deliver common goods to a customer in California.
If they end up delivering the product without the label, they’ll be sued even though they aren’t illegal as per their state’s laws. This is why a lot of companies across the US have started putting up Prop 65 labels.
Changed the Look of the Label
The entire format and look of the label were also changed back in 2018. Now, the label had to include a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark on it. This made the label much more visible. Also, it had to contain the name of at least one chemical that’s present in the product over safety levels.
As discussed earlier, the list of chemicals that qualify for a Prop 65 label has increased many times in number. Also, while initially, it was applicable for drinking water only, now the scope is much greater as it applies to a ton of other products as well.
This is another major reason why the number of labels has increased nowadays.
Should You Worry about Products that Have Prop 65 Labels on Them?
This brings us to our final question, is the Prop 65 label something you should be worried about?
In most cases, no. The Prop 65 law puts a very low bar on safety levels. It’s okay if some of the chemicals exceed the safety level a bit. So, even if a product has a low level of a specific chemical that’s practically safe, but exceeds the bar set by OEHHA, even then it would have to include the label.
This is why you’re likely to find Prop 65 labels on products such as potato chips because of the presence of acrylamide, or lumber because of wood dust. So, avoiding Prop 65 labeled products would mean avoiding most products on earth. It’s almost like avoiding driving because there’s always a risk.
Due to spreading this fear regarding the risk of cancer and damage to reproductive and birth health, Prop 65 has been heavily criticized. In fact, the Prop 65 label is sometimes put up in a sarcastic manner.
The proposition reached such a level that it was ruled that coffee shops must put up the label because Coffee beans contain acrylamide. However, the chemical is present naturally in coffee beans due to heating. Later in 2019, it was overturned and it was decided that coffee would get an exemption.
While the Prop 65 label strikes fear in the hearts of many, it’s nothing to be afraid of in the case of general products. Sure, the label may be valid and point out some products that are actually risky, but in most cases, products with Prop 65 are safe to consume.
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