Without fanfare, OEHHA launched the Proposition 65 Warnings Website last Friday to further consumer understanding of warning labels required by the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known as Prop 65. Under that law, manufacturers and facilities are prohibited from knowingly exposing any individual to any of more than 800 listed substances without first providing a “clear and reasonable warning.” Thus, the ubiquitous Prop 65 warning labels are found throughout the state of California on consumer products, in parking garages, restaurants and other places of business.
As an organization representing chemical manufacturers, we support consumers’ access to important information about chemicals and how they can be used safely. But we also want to point out that the mere presence of a chemical is not an indication that there is cause for alarm.
Chemical makers invest significant resources to study and test the products of chemistry. Having access to accurate and trustworthy information helps inform decisions individuals make for themselves and their families. However, we believe that consumers who are confused about whether a product is safe to use, or a building is safe to enter, will find no clear answers on OEHHA’s website. Instead, they will find incomplete and limited information about chemical exposure and unsupported allegations that certain product uses may result in negative health outcomes.
OEHHA promotes the site as a right-to-know resource to provide supplemental information to consumers who want to know more about the products and locations that carry the Proposition 65 “warning” label. The regulations that created the website authorized a variety of methods to obtain that information. However, based on unknown criteria, OEHHA has created fact sheets for a handful of chemicals that don’t seem to represent the facts at all. These documents discuss chemicals we encounter every day–formaldehyde in furniture products, mercury in teeth fillings and nitrous oxide (or “laughing gas”) for dental procedures. As if a trip to the dentist isn’t already an anxiety producing event for many, we’re now warned that chemicals in essential dental care may cause reproductive effects.
After raising these concerns, OEHHA then offers examples of how to reduce exposure to the chemicals. But a suggestion to “have regular check-ups and talk to your dentist about good oral hygiene practices” seems unequal to the task of addressing the fear-inducing potential health outcomes OEHHA suggests on the same page.
A spot check of information presented in one of the formaldehyde fact sheets is a cancer claim that contradicts current scientific evidence. Numerous scientific studies show that levels of formaldehyde normally found in homes and offices do not pose a risk. It is also important to note that formaldehyde occurs naturally in the environment, is produced by the human body and highly efficient biological mechanisms in the body ensure that normal, everyday exposures do not pose a risk. This makes us wonder about the correctness of other materials developed by OEHHA for the site.
During the public discussion of the proposed P65 Warnings Website, many, including ACC, urged OEHHA to ensure that information posted to the site would not further confuse consumers and to note that the mere presence of a Proposition 65 listed substance in consumer products does not represent a health risk. As OEHHA itself has often said, a Proposition 65 listing has nothing to do with product safety.
OEHHA has a responsibility to avoid confusing and needlessly alarming consumers with inaccurate information presented as factual. We strongly encourage OEHHA to incorporate more transparency and vetting of information before it finalizes and posts information about chemicals and product safety.
Bottom-line, the public is shortchanged when information is posted that is incomplete, inaccurate and not properly placed into context. “Right to Know” should also mean “Right to Understand.”