Prop 65 Explained
In 1986 voters in California approved Proposition 65 entitled The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The intent of the new law was to prevent businesses from exposing consumers to certain substances that have demonstrated toxic reactions without some warning. Examples of listed toxins are lead, arsenic and PCBs.
To understand the problems with the law, we need to establish some sort of context. But first, if you want the official California version, follow this link: California Prop 65
Lead is not a rare element but is found throughout the soil and in our human environment. For example, copper pipes in your house have lead solder joints that is exposed directly to the water. Many old houses used lead paint and tiny fragments of that paint can flake off and float through the air. It is common for root vegetables like carrots and potatoes to contain lead as they will take up lead in the soil. How much lead they contain is highly variable. Leafy vegetables can also contain lead.
Imported toys often contain lead and of course you know toddlers love to stick all kinds of things in their mouth. The level of lead that can cause developmental problems in babies and children is pretty low. Adults seem to tolerate a little more but still it is wise to keep levels as low as humanly possible.
The standard for lead in supplements is for the birth defect labeling requirement is .5 micrograms per serving. That is about the same as a half cup of spinach. For general labeling the level for lead triggering the label requirement is 15 micrograms per serving. If you find these numbers confusing and difficult to understand in normal, daily life terms, you are not alone. For example these levels are in micrograms but usually dangerous levels are listed in parts per billion. These units are understandable by scientists who work with numbers on a regular basis but are virtually meaningless to you and me.
In conclusion, you can buy organic produce from Whole Foods or drink or bathe in water from your house or eat a chocolate bar with far more lead than you would find in a quality supplement with no labels or warning requirement.
This would be a good time to point out that some studies indicate that if you keep your glutathione levels at a healthy level, your body can handle a lot of lead. These researchers speculate that the difference between two people exposed to lead and the varied response to that toxic insult is their body's ability to remove these heavy metals and other toxins via glutathione supported pathways.
Continuing on we need to talk about arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring heavy metal that is present throughout our natural environment and food and water supply. Here in Carson City, NV, arsenic is particularly a problem because of the processing of gold and silver in the area during the heyday of the Virginia City silver and gold mine activity. This is typical of any metal smelting operation although the biggest human contributor to environmental arsenic today is timber processing. We also see significant amounts in agricultural applications and also glass and pharmaceutical production. But arsenic is abundant in the earth's crust and finds its way into more than 200 different minerals. The most common arsenic-containing mineral is arsenopyrite.
Arsenic is classified as either organic (containing carbon) or inorganic (does not contain carbon). Some living creatures combine arsenic with carbon and this is especially common in sea-living organisms. The most common natural source of arsenic in the atmosphere is from volcanoes and coal-fired power plants. Ground water often contains inorganic arsenic also. Even though arsenic is common in our food and air, any trace in your supplement must be labeled as per Prop 65. Not that you want any arsenic in your supplements, it is just good to keep in mind that you are getting tiny amounts just by living, eating and drinking. California has about 800 items on the labeling list but we will talk about one more, PCBs. PCBs are manmade organic chlorine compounds. They are widely used in coolant fluids, carbonless copy paper and in head transfer fluid. They have been banned in the US since the 1970s as they are quite toxic and are highly stable which is desirable in industry but a problem when they get into the environment.
The supplement most affected is fish oil that is a source of vital EPA and DHA. Fish oil comes in several grades and is priced accordingly. You can go to a big box store and buy a huge bottle for $12.00 but a small bottle of pharmaceutical grade fish oil will cost something closer to $35.00. The difference is which grade was purchased and how many purification steps it has been through.
A lawsuit was filed in a San Francisco court demanding $2500 per person exposed to what they called PCB containing products. A spokesman for the defendants made some good points, I thought. Dr. Douglas McKay pointed out that California had chosen levels far below that of any other regulatory body in the world and that many lawyers look at Prop 65 as a sure-fire way of making money and that it has nothing to do with actual damages to human health. He goes on to point out that fish oil has a decades long track record of health benefits.
I would add that a consumer should be sure to choose high quality fish oil to avoid any undesired toxins.
I mentioned that the intent of Prop 65 was to make sure that consumers had some information about what they were buying and that is a good thing on the face of it. We do need to mention some unintended consequences, however.
Proposition 65 contains a unique "citizen-suit" enforcement provision that allows trial lawyers to rake in millions of dollars from businesses who knowingly or unknowingly fail to meet all of Prop 65's requirements. This is akin to a state-sanctioned mafia-like shake-down system. Even manufacturers based outside of California are subject to Proposition 65's labeling requirements if they hope to sell their products in the state. Manufacturers will now spend considerably more to have their supplements tested and that will have to be for each batch of herbs. Plus the routine paperwork of certifying a product meets California requirements may or may not be passed on to consumers.
Because Prop 65 requires warning labels or signage whenever exposure could cause more than "one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifetime," there is no real way for consumers to understand their actual exposure risk.
Attempts to reform Proposition 65 have fallen well short of what's needed to eliminate frivolous lawsuits and better educate consumers. Nobody seems willing to risk their political career by challenging a consumer protection law.
Percentage of Prop 65 settlement money that went to attorney's fees = 67%. Amount of money that goes to improve health of actual consumers = $000 (zero).
Amount of French fries that you would need to eat for acrylaminde, a Prop 65 labeled chemical to become a carcinogen = 182 lbs.
Amount paid by businesses to settle Prop 65 lawsuits between 2000 and 2010 = $142 million. Total amount paid to lawyers to date (August 2018) = $209,088, 300. That is $210 million just in lawyer fees. Again none of this money goes to real consumer protection or education but just goes to pad the pockets of the prop 65 mafia and to businesses trying to protect themselves.