By Frank Zaworski, Chemical Watch

Updated ‘safe harbour’ requirements in force from end of the month

Amendments to how warnings are given under California’s Proposition 65 are set to take effect from 30 August, and the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (Oehha) has said it is hoping most businesses operating or selling into the state will be in compliance in time.

The amendments, adopted back in September 2016, concern requirements for labeling, the content of consumer product exposure warnings, authorized agents, industry-specific warnings and other provisions (see box).

And while the changes met with some opposition when first agreed, Oehha says it is working to ensure that the amendments are adhered to.

“We hope compliance will be high, but we are not in the business of making predictions,” Sam Delson, Oehha’s deputy director of external and legal affairs, told Chemical Watch. “We are doing our best to spread the word and inform people about the new requirements and provide assistance to businesses that contact us with questions about how to comply.”

Denise Davis, vice president at the California Chamber of Commerce, said that many businesses have already come into compliance, and many are preparing to do so by 30 August.  

“However, like any regulation with such wide application, it is always possible that businesses, particularly small ones, will not be prepared,” she said.

And Caroline Cox, senior scientist at NGO the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), is optimistic: “The regulations have had a long phase-in (two years) so I think businesses should be ready.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Jarnot, senior manager of product compliance at regulatory consultancy Assent Compliance, said some sectors, such as food, are ready because they thoroughly understand government labeling regulations.

However, others, such as multi-line retailers and big box stores that sell products under private labels, are doing a bit of scrambling, he said.

“Some companies made the transition early and smoothly, while some companies were caught by surprise when customers started asking about labeling,” Mr Jarnot said. “Right now we have suppliers who are trying to get the chemical information they need to determine compliant labeling.”

As a result, he said, testing laboratories who have clients that sell into the state are currently inundated with verification of product information tasks. These help determine whether a product needs a new warning label that meets the new standards.

Amended warning labels

The amendments change safe harbour warnings for compliance with the law in several important ways.

For example, consumer products containing a Prop 65 chemical will have to be labeled that it “can expose you to”, rather than simply the product “contains”, the chemical.

Warnings will include:

  • the name of at least one listed chemical that prompted the warning;
  • the internet address for Oehha’s new warnings website. This includes additional information on the health effects of listed chemicals and ways to reduce or eliminate exposure to them; and
  • a triangular yellow warning symbol on most warnings.

The amendments also:

  • clarifiy the roles and responsibilities of manufacturers and retailers in providing warnings;
  • add new ‘tailored’ warnings that provide more specific information for certain kinds of exposures, products and places;
  • provide for website warnings for products purchased over the internet; and
  • provide for warnings in languages other than English in some cases.

CEH’s Caroline Cox said that from her perspective, “the most important improvements are a requirement to provide warnings in languages other than English under certain conditions; and to identify at least one chemical, by name, to which consumers are likely to be exposed.”