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When Worlds Collide — What Happens When Non-California Consumers See A Prop 65 Warning

With geographically extensive distribution systems, companies often struggle with how to provide Proposition 65 warnings on California-bound products without having to label all products distributed nationally or globally.  It’s costly and burdensome, and sometimes impossible, to label only products intended to be sold in California.  But labeling all products no matter where they are bound raises another concern: that non-California consumers, unused to seeing these warnings, will reject a product simply because it bears a Prop 65 warning.  A recent news item coming out of Tennessee initially would suggest that those fears are well-founded but a closer look tells a different story.

A Tennessee woman bought a refrigerator whose owner’s manual contained a Prop 65 warning.  Alarmed, she returned the refrigerator and got another one, confirming companies’ worst fears:  Proposition 65, which only applies to California, not only has caused a lost sale outside of the state but, worse, also has disrupted goodwill by frightening a consumer.

The news story offers a balanced view by quoting scientists who say that “many of the chemicals under Proposition 65 have been routinely used in everyday consumer items for years without any documented harm.”  Most interesting, however, are the comments submitted by readers including:

“[If] i was her i would just get rid of the refrigerator and not use one, or any spray cans, or any vegetables not grown at home, and remember she will have to grow her [own] beef, organically of course, and her own eggs and pork, sheeesh”

“BWAH HA HA HA who cares? California is a nanny state where everything causes cancer”

Most of the comments received at least one thumbs-up from other readers, and none received a thumbs-down.  And the comment that received the most thumbs-ups:

“most everything is known to cause cancer in California the only thing not known to cause cancer in California is being an idiot”

Perhaps these reader comments reveal more about consumers’ real reactions to Proposition 65 than the actual new story.

The news  item may be found at

Ms. Grimaldi maintains a diverse environmental law practice focusing on chemical and product regulation and litigation defense. Her practice areas include Proposition 65, California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations, California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Act and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Ms. Grimaldi graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law magna cum laude and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Bacteriology from University of California, Davis. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a research assistant in laboratories at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Research Institute and at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.