Press Releases

New Study: Prop 65 Litigation Cases Result in Dramatic Reduction in Lead Content of Candy and Purses

Findings undermine effort by the chemical industry and Congress to eliminate state right-to-know laws 

For Immediate Release: March 26, 2019

Contact: Caroline Cox, CEH, 541-654-2626,,
Zack Kaldveer, CEH, 510-938-2664,

A just-released study measuring the long-term impact of two Prop 65 (Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act) enforcement actions found they resulted in dramatic reductions in the lead content of candy and purses in California, and nationwide. Center for Environmental Health (CEH) was a plaintiff in both cases and co-authored a special report published in the Journal for Environmental Health detailing the findings.

The report is based on two independent data sets, one from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on certain formerly lead-containing candies and one from CEH on a variety of commonly sold purses. Significant declines in the prevalence of lead-containing products were found in both sets of products. The proportion of chili and tamarind candies with hazardous lead content declined from 45% to 3% over a five-year period. The proportion of faux leather purses made with lead-containing pigments declined from 34% to 8% over a seven-year period. Results from products purchased online suggest that the decline was national, not just limited to California.

The study is only the second quantitative analysis conducted to determine whether litigation to require warnings on hazardous products in California results in the increased availability of safer ones. The findings correlate with a 2010 CEH report showing litigation efforts and corresponding legislation led to an enormous reduction in the prevalence of lead in jewelry.

Lead is a toxic metal linked to lowered intelligence, delayed puberty, and heart disease. Children are particularly at risk because their bodies are still developing, and direct exposure can severely affect mental development, including lower IQ test scores and school achievement. Lead can even harm an unborn child as a result of exposure to pregnant women or women likely to become pregnant. Lead is also what is known as an “endocrine-disrupting chemical”, which means even small doses can wreak havoc on a human’s hormone system.

“Prop 65 and the legal tool it provides forced companies to significantly reduce the amount of toxic metal in candy and purses that can damage children’s brains,” said Michael Green, CEO and Founder of CEH. “These findings illustrate why Prop 65 has been so effective in protecting millions of consumers from harmful chemicals without imposing costs on businesses and consumers. When companies are threatened with litigation that would force them to warn consumers about a toxic chemical in a product they’re selling, companies respond by providing products that are safer and more environmentally friendly.”

Prop 65 was overwhelmingly passed by California voters in 1986. The law requires companies with more than 10 employees to place a warning label on products that expose consumers to significant amounts of chemicals known to cause reproductive harm or cancer. It is also designed to hold companies accountable for knowingly dumping dangerous chemicals into drinking water sources.

“For nearly two decades CEH has used Prop 65 to successfully eliminate hazardous lead from a long list of common  products including baby powder, children’s medicines, candy, purses, vinyl lunch boxes, bounce houses, artificial turf, jewelry, diaper cream, toys, and bibs; holding mega-corporations like Walgreens, Disney, Mattel, and Toys R Us accountable,” said Caroline Cox, Senior Scientist at CEH. “These enforcement actions have created national changes that improve product safety when weaker federal rules failed to protect American children and families.”

Despite the success of local and state right-to-know laws like Prop 65, they are regularly under threat. Last year, Congress introduced a bill (“Accurate Labels Act”), promoted primarily by the chemical and grocery manufacturers, that would eliminate all existing labeling and information disclosure laws adopted by state or local governments, for nearly all consumer products and commodities (and their packaging). This report indicates that moving the bill again this year would endanger America’s health.