Tuesday, February 5, 2013

California: The State Where Your Probability of Getting Cancer Might be Lower

When my wife and I were in California in September last year (for my prostate cancer treatment in San Francisco), we noticed something never seen in other states we’ve visited or lived. That was, dozens and dozens of products on stores shelves with cancer warning labels, bearing words to the effect:

“This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm”

Those words, or very similar ones, appear on everything from flashlights, to eyeglass repair kits, to garden hoses and even coffee cups and ointments listed as treatments for diaper rash. Moreover, the warning label isn’t limited to consumer products but is also seen on buildings. In other words, you’re warned in advance if you enter X or Y bldg. you have a higher risk of getting cancer.

When we queried one of the oncologists at the UCSF Helen Diller Cancer Center about the ubiquity of these signs-warnings we were told about Proposition 85, which was passed in 1986. This Proposition requires the governor to publish an annual list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The most recent list includes hundreds of chemicals from literally A (A-alpha-C) to Z (zileuton). Others that have been regularly included and about which I’ve blogged before are: asbestos, benzene, PCBs and phthalates.)

All manufacturers must include the given warning (or a close facsimile) if the chemicals exceed “safe harbor levels” – which are those adopted by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. (Prop. 85 itself lists 4 criteria by which a chemical hazard listing can be prompted. Moreover, the listings aren’t ironclad. If evidence changes the chemicals can be delisted.)

According to the OEHHA, the idea isn’t Nanny-state overkill but rather offering California’s citizens choice and information when they buy products. As they put it:

“Consumers can decide on their own if they want to purchase or use a product.”

So why don’t other states have such warning labels for their products. The UCSF oncologist again: “Other states are probably just content to go by the federal standards which are much lower.” Wow! So, the feds may be hyper worried about marijuana being legalized in some states, but it’s ok to have cancer causing agents all over tarnation. Else, why no warnings for such obvious carcinogens as benzene and phthalates as well as bisphenol –A (banned in Canada)?

For those readers interested, the full list of chemicals for which warnings are issued in CA can be found here:


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