Anyone who lives in California is familiar with one particular, recognizable, all-too-common warning label: “WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals which are known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
This is known as the Prop 65 label, named after California’s Proposition 65, officially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. In a nutshell, this law requires businesses selling in California to notify customers if their products contain any of the potentially harmful ingredients on the Proposition 65 list. Since its first iteration in the late ‘80s, this list has grown to include over 800 ingredients known to cause cancer, reproductive issues, birth defects, or other health-related problems. Some of the most commonly recognized chemicals on the Prop 65 list include alcohol (which we know causes cancer) and retinoic acid (a popular anti-aging skincare ingredient).
Prop 65 covers all consumer goods sold in California — from food, to children’s toys, to personal care products, and even clothing. (Yes, cancer-causing chemicals can be found in all of the above.) The law doesn’t stop manufactures from using these ingredients, though; all it does is ensure that companies notify customers when the chemicals are used in production, so that the buyer can make an educated choice about whether or not to use said product. CA residents will often see the label on products in stores, or get a notification if something they buy online and have shipped to California contains one or more of the regulated chemicals.
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Sometimes, customers in other states will see these warning labels, too — only because it’s costly for online or widely-distributed brands to have one type of packaging for California customers (with the Prop 65 label) and one type of packaging for everyone else. However, this isn’t always the case. Many bi-coastal residents have noticed that food items or clothing brands they regularly buy in New York City look a little different when they shop in Los Angeles; namely, they’re branded with a Prop 65 label.
Many feel that a warning label noting the presence of carcinogens and other harmful chemicals should be used throughout the country, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, in the United States, these types of issues are currently handled on the state-level. Things may be changing in New York soon, though — the state’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, recently announced a proposal called the Consumer Right to Know Act. While not an exact replica of Prop 65, the Consumer Right to Know Act would give NY residents similar access to information about the products they buy and the companies they buy from.
Until all state legislators decide to protect their constituents with an act like Prop 65, it’s up to individual consumers to protect themselves. No matter where you live, you can check out the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment website to find its list of potentially hazardous chemicals covered by Prop 65.