California Changes Course in Amendments to Proposition 65 Warning Label Requirements

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Businesses in California have been thrown another curveball in following developments related to the state’s Proposition 65, the much-criticized statute requiring prolific warnings of exposure to toxic substances and fueling a number of lawsuits brought by private citizen groups.  In January 2015, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”) issued a notice to repeal and replace the current Article 6 regulations governing Proposition 65 warning label requirements.  After receiving comments and conferring with stakeholders, OEHHA now has changed course, issuing a new proposal detailing changes to the structure and content of Proposition 65 warning labels.1

The most significant difference between the two proposals is that OEHHA has withdrawn the provision creating a “dirty dozen” list of chemicals that would have had to be disclosed in a warning label.  Instead, under the new proposal, products must be labeled with a warning that identifies at least one listed chemical to which a consumer could be exposed.

The new proposal also explicitly clarifies an issue that was the subject of significant consternation when the original proposal was released:  warning statements or methods adopted under existing court-ordered settlements or final judgments are deemed to be “clear and reasonable” for purposes of that exposure and Proposition 65 compliant. 

OEHHA maintains, with modest amendments, the provisions of the proposed rule intended to clarify when retailers may be held responsible for providing product exposure warnings.  These provisions respond to a statutory mandate to minimize burdens on retailers, and, in short, require that the manufacturer, producer, packager, importer, or distributor is responsible for adding the warning to a product label or providing a written notice to the retailer regarding the required warning for the product.  The responsibility for providing a warning falls on the retailer only under certain conditions, such as when the retailer receives warning information and materials from a supplier and fails to post them.

As in the original proposal, certain types of exposures would be subject to additional or alternative requirements.  These provisions would apply to: diesel engines, passenger vehicles, enclosed parking facilities, designated smoking areas, petroleum products, service stations and vehicle repair facilities, food, alcoholic beverages, restaurants, prescription drugs, dental care, raw wood products, furniture products, and amusement parks.  The revised proposal includes limited amendments to these provisions, primarily with respect to the details of the form, method, and delivery of the required warning.

OEHHA believes that the proposed rule will accomplish several additional objectives, including:

  • Making warnings more visible (by requiring use of the familiar exclamation point symbol for most warnings);
  • Improving consumer understanding by requiring use the more direct statement that “This product can expose you to a chemical [or chemicals] known to the State of California to cause” cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm, as appropriate, rather than the current general practice of simply warning of the presence of a chemical;
  • Providing more information about listed chemicals and products associated with those chemicals, and advice for how to reduce or avoid exposures, by directing consumers to a web address for a new OEHHA website (www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/product);
  • Providing for warnings in non-English languages in instances where product labeling contains information in alternative languages.

A public hearing on the new proposed rulemaking will be held on January 13, 2016, and written comments will be received through January 22, 2016.

[1] For a full description of the original January 2015 proposed rule, please see our previous article “Warning: Proposition 65 May Become Even More Hazardous to Your Business Health” in the April 2015 issue of Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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