A primer on Proposition 65

Proposition 65, the ballot initiative also called the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, protects Californians from toxic chemicals. Among its requirements:

  • The state must publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.
  • Businesses must label products and areas, like workplaces or apartments, that contain or release significant amounts of those poisons.
  • Businesses are prohibited from knowingly releasing listed chemicals into drinking water sources.

Former Environmental Defense Fund attorney, David Roe, helped write the proposition in the early 80s. The law, which can be enforced by public prosecutors or by citizen suits, relies on disclosure, not regulatory commands. But, through a process one reporter called “legal judo,” the likelihood of being shown in court to have exposed others to deadly chemicals has led to quiet, widespread compliance with the law.

This law was consciously designed to get business to avoid toxic problems.

David Roe Former EDF attorney

California's Environmental Protection Agency summarized the law's accomplishments after its first five years.

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