I'm not a CA resident; does Prop 65 affect me?

The short answer is: it sure does!

For decades, the Prop 65 label was seen almost exclusively in California, where it became ubiquitous in everyday life. From backpacks to the bundle of firewood purchased for a weekend bonfire, the stark warnings were familiar and widespread. So widespread, in fact, that the majority of CA consumers had come to ignore them.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country remained largely unaware of the Prop 65 warning. This was because many manufacturers based in California would use one version of packaging with Prop 65 warnings that shipped to customers in CA, and another without that shipped to the rest of the country. It wasn't meant to be surreptitious, but merely to avoid confusion and alarm among customers unfamiliar with the Prop 65 warning and its intent.

Then, in 2018, new California legislation went into effect requiring that all goods sold online to CA residents from anywhere in the country had to comply with Prop 65 law.

The effect was resounding. Some companies stopped selling to California altogether, including retail giant BJ’s Wholesale Club. Others found themselves embroiled in violation notices, racking up $2,500 or more in fees each day while they scrambled to update their labels to comply with Prop 65. A few shut down their businesses entirely.

Some manufacturers, unable to label and warehouse separate California inventory, chose to add the warning to all of their products regardless of destination, realizing the futility of a legal fight against the state of California. They often faced significant fallout when their non-CA shoppers confronted the alarming warning for the first time, with many issuing refunds and scrambling to offer explanations that didn't violate Prop 65's stringent laws around language. One such company was Vermont Soap, an organic, independent soap manufacturer in Vermont, who found themselves refunding one wholesale customer for $7,000 worth of product when she first confronted the warning. The warning was there for small amounts of beta-myrcene in some of their soaps, a compound naturally occurring in many plants and their essential oils. They now have a numerous articles on their website explaining the warning and how it intersects with their products.

Today, we can walk into a retail store anywhere in the country and see the Prop 65 warning affixed to various foods and products. Consumers nationwide are becoming more familiar with its presence, whether they know how to interpret it or not.

If you're someone noticing the Prop 65 warning for the first time it's important to remember that it is a right-to-know law, and does not determine the safety of a product, The chemical in question can be something man-made and decidedly toxic, or something naturally occurring and present in the food or product in an unadulterated way, like beta-myrcene in essential oil.

To decode a Prop 65 warning, first check for the chemical name, which is usually listed within the warning (some products are grandfathered in with older, non-specific label; in these cases you'll need to call the manufacturer for more details). With the chemical name, you can visit the California Office of Health Hazard Assessment's chemical list here, where you can search for the one of interest. Within the chemical's information page, you'll likely see either a "Maximum Allowable Dose Level" for reproducetive warnings, or a "No Significant Risk Level" for cancer warnings (if there's neither, it means that the chemical has not undergone the studies needed to establish a safe harbor level and you'll have to do some independent research to learn more about it). Next, you'll need to call the manufacturer to ask what amount of the chemical is present in their product. From here, you can assess your own health state, general chemical exposure, and the benefits of the food or product in question before deciding if it's right for you. For specific questions or concerns, it's always advisable to talk to your doctor or other health professional.

Throughout this fact-finding mission, it's important to remember that Prop 65 levels are set not at the amount considered dangerous to our health, but at 1/1,000th of the amount shown to be safe! For more about that, please see our article on Safe Harbor levels here.

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