California Proposition 65, Restriction on Toxic Discharges Into Drinking Water (1986)

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California Proposition 65 was on the November 4, 1986 statewide ballot in California as an initiated state statute, where it was approved.

Proposition 65 was officially known as the Safe Drinking Water & Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. It placed restrictions on toxic discharges into drinking water and required that people be notified who were exposed to toxins; specifically:

  • People doing business are prohibited under Proposition 65 from exposing individuals to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning.
  • They are also prohibited from discharging such chemicals into drinking water.
  • The Governor of California is required to publish lists of chemicals that trigger notification requirements.
  • The California Attorney General is authorized to seek injunctions and civil penalties.


Proposition 141

Four years after Proposition 65 was approved, an effort was made via Proposition 141 in 1990 to extend its provisions to federal, state, and local government agencies and water systems serving the public. Proposition 141, however, was defeated, with 51.53% voting against it.

A "Prop 65 warning" sign displayed in a store window at Los Angeles International Airport in May 2012

Coke and Pepsi coloration

In March 2012, Coke and Pepsi announced that they had requested the companies that produce the caramel coloring for their signature cola lines to alter the manufacturing process of that caramel coloring. The move was made in order to avoid running afoul of the provisions of Proposition 65. In January 2012, California added 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MI, to the list of chemicals that fall under the notification provisions of Proposition 65. That chemical had been in use in the manufacturing process for the caramel coloring in Coke and Pepsi, but will be no more.

According Gina Anderson, a spokeswoman for PepsiCo, "Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns."[1]

An FDA spokesperson said a person would have to drink "well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer in rodents."[1]

Bisphenol A

On July 15, 2009, a state EPA hearing examined whether Bisphenol A (BPA) shouldd be added to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.[2]

774 chemicals

As of 2012, the agency in charge of administering Proposition 65 had compiled a list of 774 chemicals that require the Prop 65 warning.[3]


In 2011, private law firms reached 327 settlements in Prop 65 lawsuits totaling $15.9 million in payouts to plaintiffs. $12 million of the $15.9 million went to the private law firms while $3.9 million went to the plaintiffs.[3]

Henry T. Perea, a Fresno Democrat, commented on this, saying, "The point of Proposition 65 was to make clean drinking water, not to make a few law firms rich."[3]

Text of measure

Proposition 65 1986.PNG


The ballot title was:

Restrictions on Toxic Discharges into Drinking Water; Requirement of Notice of Persons' Exposure to Toxics. Initiative Statute.


The official summary provided to describe Proposition 65 said:

"Provides persons doing business shall neither expose individuals to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning, nor discharge such chemicals into drinking water. Allows exceptions. Requires Governor publish lists of such chemicals. Authorizes Attorney General and, under specified conditions, district or city attorneys and other persons to seek injunctions and civil penalties. Requires designated government employees obtaining information of illegal discharge of hazardous waste disclose this information to local board of supervisors and health officer."

Fiscal impact

The fiscal estimate provided by the California Legislative Analyst's Office said:

It is estimated that the administrative actions resulting from the enactment of this measure would cost around $500,000 in 1987. Starting in 1988, the costs of these actions are unknown and would depend on many factors, but these costs could exceed $1 million annually.

In addition, the measure would result in unknown costs to state and local law enforcement agencies. A portion of these costs could be offset by increased civil penalties and fines collected under the measure.

Beyond these direct effects of the measure, state and local governments may strengthen enforcement activities to ensure compliance with the new requirements. The costs of any additional enforcement could be significant.

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