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FAQs California Proposition 65 Warning Label

What is the Prop 65 warning?

Occasionally you’ll see a product for sale with a warning label stating something similar to the following:
This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm. You might also see this warning as you purchase it at an online retailer or in a catalog. California has two types of warnings – one for cancer and one for reproductive health. Some products have one or the other of these warnings and some have both. These warnings are required by California labeling law Proposition 65 (or Prop 65). Prop 65 does not prohibit the sale of any products containing these chemicals; it only requires a warning. What’s the difference between cancer and reproductive toxicity? A chemical listed under Prop 65 as a carcinogen has been shown (often in laboratory animal studies, and at very high doses) to cause cancer. A chemical listed under Prop 65 as a reproductive toxin has been shown (again, often in laboratory animal studies and at very high doses) to cause male or female reproductive toxicity or developmental toxicity.

Does this law apply beyond California?

The Prop 65 warnings are only required under California law. Keep in mind, Prop 65 standards are extremely stringent - among the most stringent standards anywhere and are often far more stringent than federal standards.

What kinds of chemicals and substances require warnings?

Many dietary supplements contain substances that require a warning in California. One vitamin that requires a warning above a certain level is Vitamin A. Incidental contaminants such as lead and mercury also require warnings above a certain level even if they are not added intentionally to a product.

How concerned should I be about the warning?

You should always be mindful of all product warnings. If a product has a Prop 65 warning, does it mean that the product will cause cancer or other reproductive harm when the product is used as recommended? Not necessarily. As is often the case, the listing of a chemical under Prop 65 could be the result of tests on laboratory animals at very high doses. Prop 65 standards for warnings are often extremely stringent. For example, for reproductive toxicants, the level for warnings is 1000 times lower than the lowest level at which animal studies reported no reproductive health effect. Just because a product has a Prop 65 warning on it, it does not automatically mean the product is unsafe.

How does California determine these warnings?

California has an established formal process for adding chemicals to the Prop 65 list. Chemicals can be added in many different ways including reports based on animal studies and often involving very high dosages of chemicals.

How do the California warnings measure up to federal standards?

Please be aware that California product label warning requirements are not typically the same as federal safety requirements. This causes a disconnect and some confusion between warnings on products sold in California and what is required elsewhere in the U.S.A. That’s why you might see a California Prop 65 warning on a product sold in California but no warning on the same product sold somewhere else in the U.S.A. The products are not different; it merely means Prop 65 warnings are mandated for sales to California consumers.

As mentioned above, there are various substances that require a California Prop 65 warning at levels that are far more stringent than federal standards. Lead is a good example. The Prop 65 standard for a lead warning is 0.5 micrograms per day, which is much more stringent than federal and international lead standards.

Why don’t all similar products in the marketplace carry the warning?

There could be several reasons you may not see a warning on a similar product. It’s possible a company has been involved in a Prop 65 lawsuit, and has reached a settlement. Part of that settlement may require Prop 65 warnings for products. Although other companies sell similar products, they may not provide a warning. There is inconsistent Prop 65 enforcement, so you may see one product with a warning and one that looks to be identical without a warning. Sometimes a company may elect not to provide a warning because based on their assessment, they believe they are not required to do so. Remember, a lack of warning does not necessarily mean that a particular product is free of the same substances at similar levels.

This is confusing. What can I do?

California residents see Prop 65 warnings in a wide range of settings -- in restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, schools, hospitals, and on a wide variety of consumer products. Some internet and mail order retailers have chosen to provide Prop 65 warnings on their websites or in catalogs for all their products and for all consumers.

If you want clarification, you can ask the manufacturer or retailer to explain the warning. But please keep in mind that just because another brand does not have the warning, it does not automatically mean that the other brand is free of the substance or has lower levels.

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