CA Prop 65 Labels – What is it? Why Do I see it? Should I be Worried?

*This article contains personal opinions based on the writer. It does not represent any opinions or views of Kinjirushi Wasabi International**

If you live in California, like I do, you probably have seen this notice on some or many of the products you purchase:

Warning: This product can expose you to chemicals which are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
For more information, go to

So what exactly does this mean? If I use or eat anything with this warning, does it mean I will have cancer, birth defects and or other reproductive harm? How come I don’t see this warning on the same products but sold in other states????

After extensive research I found out that Prop 65 was originally known as “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986”. This act was voted into state law to inform consumers of dangerous pollutants that contaminated the California water supply. From there, in 1988, the requirement extended beyond drinking water and back then included 235 containments on its list. Now, it containers 900 chemicals on the list and extend to anything and everything from consumables to furniture. The limits of safe usage differs based on each chemical and although FDA and EPA already have set levels for safe consumption, “Prop 65 goes above and beyond federal standards, sometimes setting different limits than the EPA does.” (

So what types of chemicals are on this list. Here are a list of few with their respective limits:

Chemical NSRL (μg/day)ª
Lead and Lead Compounds 15 (oral)
Arsenic (inorganic arsenic compounds) 0.06 (inhalation) 10 (except inhalation)
Cadmium 0.05 (inhalation)

So what products contain these chemicals and how are they affecting our lifestyle?

Lead can be found in food, foodware, cookware, packaging, air, soil, water and even in our homes. The FDA has separate guidelines based on the product but for most consumers, lead is common in drinking water and juices. The FDA legal limit for bottled water is 5 ppb while the EPA sets the standard at 15 ppb since lead can leak from pipes into the drinking water. The highest risk of lead poisoning is for young children under 3 years and also for pregnant women.

For example “For juice, FDA states in its “Guidance for Industry: Juice HACCP Hazards and Controls” that lead levels in juice above 50 ppb may constitute a health hazard. With respect to candy, FDA recommends a maximum lead level of 100 ppb in candy likely to be consumed by small children.” (source)

Arsenic can be found in “seafood, rice, rice cereal (and other rice products), mushrooms, and poultry, although many other foods, including some fruit juices.” It can also be found in drinking water, pesticides and herbicides, communities that live near industrial buildings that release arsenic in the air and many more factors. (source.)

Highly consumed foods such as rice and fruit juices have FDA recommended arsenic level (100 ppb for rice and 10 ppb for apple juice) however, this is merely a guideline and not necessarily a law that is enforced.

Cadmium is found is shellfish, kidney, liver, mushrooms and root crops. It can also get into the environment through burning of fossil fuels such as coal, it is also found in cosmetics and smokers are exposed to cadmium due to its presence in tobacco.

Lead, Arsenic and Cadmium can be considered a carcinogenic and with long time exposure, can cause many issues besides cancer.

So you would think all foods that contain “dangerous” chemicals will be forced to label with the Prop 65 label if sold in California. But apparently there are exceptions such as mercury content in canned Tuna. It is common knowledge that tuna contains a high amount of mercury and it is advised that people limit the amount of tuna consumed to prevent mercury poisoning. So if everyone knows about this, why isn’t canned tuna labeled with Prop 65 (mercury is included in the list of 900 chemicals). According to a LA Times article, back in 2006, a San Francisco judge ruled that “that mercury levels are not high enough to warrant health warnings, and that tuna is exempt because mercury in fish is naturally occurring.”

What is Naturally Occurring?
For a product to be considered naturally occurring, it must pass 3 requirements of “(1) prove the “natural background” of the chemical in the area where the food is grown or raised; (2) prove that the chemical did not result “from any known human activity;” and (3) prove that by Good Manufacturing Practices, the chemical exists in its lowest feasible level.” (source)
If tuna can pass these 3 requirements, can’t many others also pass this requirement? Apparently, the hardest hurdle to the requirements is from the 2nd requirement where “the chemical did not result “from any known human activity””. What does this mean? According to FoodSafety Magazine, this means that “Pollution, or runoff that causes chemicals to leach into the groundwater from miles away, or that falls as rain, can be considered the result of “human activity” dating far back in time. The end result is that the company making the product is likely responsible for chemicals found in the constituent crops caused by some form of human activity, regardless of whether these chemicals are recently deposited or the result of deposits in the soil over many years, perhaps tens, hundreds or even thousands.”[source] So one would think…wouldn’t Tuna also be under the same circumstances? With the case of tuna, with the funding of multi million dollars from large tuna corporations, they were able to prove extensive data showing the mercury levels in the sea that eventually satisfied the courts leading to their victory.

So what about other companies? Unfortunately, they don’t have the same kind of funding to do the extensive research to provide data to satisfy the courts. Therefore, many food manufacturers need to provide this label on their food even if they did not directly contribute to the chemicals found in their products. This is what makes Prop 65 informative but also deceiving at the same time.

Chemicals can be absorbed through the soil, from pesticides or herbicides and even through the water. Even if a farmer produces organic foods, if there are chemicals that leached into the soil, they will legally be obliged to label their food with prop 65.

So should I be worried? Yes and No. Prop 65 gives consumers a warning about chemical contamination for all products they use (including non food items). However, Prop 65 does not indicate the amount of chemicals in each label and only indicates the presence of each chemical. Therefore, by consuming or using a product that has a Prop 65 warning label, you aren’t given enough information as to whether the product is dangerous to use or consume even in small amounts. Most of all, with over 900 chemicals in the list, most likely not all the chemicals are listed even if it is present. All companies would need to test for all 900 chemicals to rule out all of the chemicals but most companies do not have the money or time to test for all 900. Therefore, the likely chances you are consuming or exposed to an unlisted chemical is also likely depending on the product.

As helpful as Prop 65 is supposed to be for consumer awareness, it has too many loopholes and only provides partial information to the consumers. It is also proven through the Tuna industry that Prop 65 is susceptible to political influence based on money and power. Therefore, in the end, it comes down to what is beneficial for lawmakers and don’t really add priority to consumer safety and protect the consumers from harm.

So how can I protect myself? Do your own research about the products you are consuming and or using and make a decision for yourself. Even if the product has a Prop 65 warning, it doesn’t necessarily mean the product will give you or expose you to dangerous levels of carcinogens. I mean, all Nori (dried seaweed) products have Prop 65 warning labels and many fish from the sea also contain naturally occurring chemicals from the sea. Therefore, does that mean enjoying Sushi on a Saturday night will give you cancer? Probably not. As my mother always says, everything should be taken in moderations. Even sushi can be enjoyed in moderations as long as you watch the amount you eat. Is it risk free? Absolutely not. But what in life isn’t risk free? Do your own research and make your own decisions is the best way to protect yourself from long term harm.