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The Safe Drinking Water & Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986


    • In November 1986, California voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to address growing concerns about exposures to toxic chemicals. Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, was intended to protect Californians and their drinking water sources from chemicals known to cause cancer, and birth defects, and to inform citizens when they are exposed to such chemicals.

    The Law

    • The law states: “No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly discharge or release a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity into water or onto or into land where such chemical passes or probably will pass into any source of drinking water.” The law mandates that any company with 10 or more employees that operates within the state or sells products in California must comply with the requirements of Proposition 65.

    Which Chemicals?

    • Proposition 65 requires the state to publish an annual list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The list contains a wide range of naturally occurring or synthetic chemicals, including dyes, solvents, pesticides, drugs, food additives and by-products of certain processes. Proposition 65 also imposes certain controls that are designed to protect California's drinking water sources from contamination; allow California consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase; and, to enable residents or workers to protect themselves from exposures to these toxic chemicals.

    Proposition 65 Warnings

    • The statute states that “no person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving a clear and reasonable warning…” With that, the state established “safe harbor levels”--levels of exposure that trigger the Proposition 65 warning requirement, which reads: "Warning: This Product Contains A Chemical Known To The State of California To Cause Cancer." Under Proposition 65, there are no acceptable concentrations established for any listed chemical in any given product.


    • While Proposition 65 provides a market-based incentive for manufacturers to remove listed chemicals from their products, the benefits of the proposition have their costs. Businesses have incurred expenses to test products, develop alternatives, reduce discharges and provide warnings in order to comply with the requirements of the law.

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