This October, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed amendments to the “safe harbor” warning requirements under Proposition 65, the California Law that requires businesses with at least ten employees to provide a “clear and reasonable” warning to customers about exposures to chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity (officially called the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986). The proposed amendments to the safe harbor warning requirements for Proposition 65 (known as “Prop 65”) focus on short-form warnings, provisions for internet and catalog purchases, and warnings for motor vehicles and recreational marine vessel parts.
Requirement of chemical identification in short-form warnings
Under regulations adopted in 2016, safe harbor warnings generally require the name of at least one chemical for each health effect covered by the label. However, because small products may not have space for a full-length warning, OEHHA included an optional short-form label that does not require businesses to identify the chemical(s) prompting the warning. However, since the adoption of the regulations, OEHHA has found that many businesses have chosen to use the short-form label regardless of product size. OEHHA also found that some businesses use short-form labels in situations where there is no risk of exposure to a Prop 65 chemical as a litigation avoidance strategy, diluting the impact of legitimate warnings. As a result, OEHHA proposes that short-form labels identify a chemical for each health effect covered by the label beginning two years after the rule’s effective date.
Provisions for internet and catalog purchases
OEHHA is aware of confusion among businesses about how to provide warnings for products purchased online. For example, some businesses have expressed confusion as to whether an online warning is necessary if the product has a warning on its label and vice versa. To clarify, OEHHA proposes that warnings be required both online and on the product label, or in the case of a catalog, both in the catalog and on the product. OEHHA additionally clarifies the requirements for online warnings; a business must include either a warning on the product display page, a hyperlink on the product display page using the word “WARNING” that links to the warning, or an otherwise prominently displayed warning made to the purchaser prior to completing the purchase.
Warnings for motor vehicles and recreational marine vessel parts
OEHHA states that passenger and off-highway motor vehicles and recreational marine vessel parts present a unique challenge because parts are often too small to comfortably fit full-length warnings and because consumer exposure varies substantially from person to person. To address these concerns, OEHHA proposes that businesses selling these parts can choose to provide a general exposure warning (either at each retail point of sale or point of display) in lieu of a warning on the product label.
Other proposed revisions include explicitly allowing the use of short-form warnings on food products, allowing warnings to begin with “CA” or “CALIFORNIA WARNING” instead of just “WARNING,” allowing more flexibility for warning font sizes and adding additional language to clarify that warnings be placed conspicuously.
The proposed amendments are similar to amendments proposed by OEHHA in January 2021. OEHHA was unable to complete that rulemaking within the regulatory time limit. The current proposal is the first on safe harbor warning requirements since that time.
Comments on the proposed amendments are due December 20, 2023. In addition, OEHHA will hold a hybrid public hearing on the proposed amendments on December 13, 2023, at 10:00 AM PST.