Prop 65 Update
For practitioners in California, signs of Proposition 65 are everywhere, literally. Everywhere you turn (the gas station, the coffee shop, even the beach), there are signs to notify you that you may come into contact with a chemical known to cause reproductive harm or cancer.
While this legislation at first seemed like a real consumer win, the end result has been hundreds of class action lawsuits with the real winners being the attorneys themselves.
What is Proposition 65?
In 1986, California voters approved an initiative to address concerns about unintended exposure to toxic chemicals. Proposition 65 (also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) requires the State to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm when repeated exposure to toxic thresholds occur. The Governor of California is required to have the list updated yearly; currently there are over 800 chemicals on this list. This list contains substances which have been officially listed by California as having a 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer over a 70-year period or birth defects or other reproductive harm.
A Prop 65 warning does not mean that the use of an individual product will cause cancer or reproductive harm when used as directed. There continues to be much debate over what a toxic level or a cumulative toxic level of each substance is. For example, for reproductive toxins, the stated level requiring a warning label is 1,000 times lower than the lowest level at which animal studies reported no reproductive health effect. At this dose, the risk of harm may be very low, yet a product still requires the Prop 65 warning.
While many substances that require labeling are straightforward, there are others that might surprise you.One example of this is vitamin A (retinol/retinyl esters), which requires labeling if it is above a certain dosage. Additionally, many plant-based foods, even when grown organically, can contain lead and mercury due to absorbing low amounts that are naturally occurring in soil. These will require a label as well if there’s a chance they contain any heavy metals.
One example of this is lead. The proposition 65 limit for lead is 0.5 mcg per day. The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) safe limit for lead in drinking water is 15 mcg/L per day. To provide some perspective on how some of the standards set by Proposition 65 are extremely low, many foods contain naturally-occurring lead from the soil it was grown in. One ounce of dark chocolate can contain about 0.6 mcg of lead, which would exceed the 0.5 mcg/day safe limit of lead by Prop 65 standards. And who can stop at one ounce!
On the surface, this state legislation was a real consumer win. Who wouldn’t want to know if they were going to be exposed to something harmful? But in effect, companies, including those that make natural products, have a challenge ahead of them. Regarding supplements, you may see Prop 65 warning labels on products as a precaution.In most instances, this isn’t cause for any more alarm than ordering a coffee at Starbucks (which also has a warning!). If you have concerns, please reach out to us so we can help you understand more about the law or a specific product.
By Jaclyn Chasse, ND