Donate |

What does California's cancer warning mean?

The state requires manufacturers to label products that contain certain chemicals

Consumer Reports magazine: March 2013

What does California know that you don’t? Readers from all over have long wondered at this or a similar warning: “This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”

They’ve seen the words on products as varied as a flashlight, an eyeglass repair kit, a beach ball, a garden hose, a fishing rod, and—more troubling—on a coffee cup, a water bottle, a steering wheel cover, and an ointment to treat diaper rash. “We certainly want what’s best for baby,” said a New Yorker who bought the ointment, “so this product is going right in the trash!” In California the warning is even placed on some buildings.

What’s up? The answer is Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. It was a California ballot initiative (voted on by the public) and requires the governor to publish an annual list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The latest list includes hundreds of chemicals from A-alpha-C to zileuton. (Among the better-known entries are asbestos, benzene, lead, PCBs, and several phthalates.)

Manufacturers must include the warning if exposure to one or more of those chemicals exceeds “safe harbor levels” adopted by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Prop 65 lists four things that can prompt the listing of a chemical. If evidence changes, chemicals may be delisted.

Although the warning is required only on products sold in California, companies may use it on all of their products to avoid creating different packaging for sales in that state.

Bottom line. “Consumers can decide on their own if they want to purchase or use” a product that bears a Prop 65 warning, says the OEHHA. Although the wording certainly gets your attention, it may not mean that the product violates a federal safety standard. Since businesses aren’t required to say exactly why a warning is on their product, the agency suggests that a concerned buyer contact the manufacturer to find out. The list of covered chemicals is available at the OEHHA website.

   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Latest From Consumer Reports

REFRIGERATOR REVIEWS
Find your new fridge at Home Depot, Lowe's, or Sears The stores have Labor Day deals on some of our top-rated models.
DIGITAL CAMERA REVIEWS
How to take better underwater photographs and video Getting the shots you want in the pool or at the beach requires know-how.
GAS GRILL REVIEWS
6 ways to make your Labor Day barbecue a winnerVideo These grilling tips from the pros will guarantee everyone a good time.
PICKUP REVIEWS
Ratings update: Find out which pickup to pick upVideo The 2015 Ram Diesel is the top full-sized pickup in our latest tests.
RETIREMENT PLANNING GUIDE
Why you can stop freaking out about retirement How to worry less and plan better for a secure and satisfying future.
WHAT TO BUY WHEN
7 products on deep discount in SeptemberVideo Our lab tests and shopping tips will help you find the right stuff.

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more