What is Proposition 65?

In spirit, prop 65 is a great idea: In 1986, California lawmakers decided the public needs to know if their water  supply contains toxic chemicals. So they compiled a list of 800+ substances and required any business using the substances to proclaim the use publicly. As a result, there are warnings all over the place — at banks, theme parks, grocery stores — which tends to confuse us as much as protect us. (We’ve oversimplified things a bit. There’s more to it, of course, which you can get right from the source.)

So my bank, and Disneyland, are… toxic?

No. Well, maybe. The way prop 65 is enforced has created a defensive business strategy: infringements can cost businesses $2,500 per day, and nearly all cases are reported by citizens motivated to earn as much as 25% of that fee by “blowing the whistle,” as it were. These cases are handled in civil lawsuits, which are themselves quite expensive, with nearly all the award going to attorneys. Since there is no penalty for a business who warns customers about prop 65 chemicals even when none are in use, proposition 65 warning signs have become a hallmark of the California lifestyle.

So when you see a prop 65 warning sign, the business might be using toxic chemicals, or they simply might have decided it’s cheaper to hang a few signs than fight the civil lawsuits that prop 65 law firms might bring. It’s an unintended consequence of a law that has probably done a lot of good to protect California residents–while creating a new legal specialty (and steady business for sign-makers) across the state.

What about natural products?

The really interesting thing about proposition 65 is that many organic vegetables would be included in the ban as written by California legislators.  For example, carrots and green beans both contain more than twenty times the legal limit of arsenic, as defined by the proposition. (Other offenders include sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, artichokes, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach and potatoes.) A compromise was reached to spare natural products from conforming to prop 65 standards: if the food is completely natural, businesses don’t have to report the otherwise banned substance.

So why does Earthpaste carry the warning?

Earthpaste’s most important ingredient is Redmond Clay, a food-grade bentonite clay that is naturally an amazing polishing agent for our teeth. Redmond Clay is an ancient volcanic ash embedded in the earth’s crust, and like everything that comes from the earth, you’ll find the tiniest bit of naturally-occurring lead, which is on the prop 65 list.

Redmond Clay probably falls under the proposition’s exempted products definition — it is naturally occurring, in much smaller amounts than indicated by government agencies as dangerous, but the legislation is just ambiguous enough for us to worry about potential litigation .We’re pretty cautious around here, and not terribly interested in defending civil action by prop 65 watchdogs hoping for a settlement or share of daily fines. So we changed some packaging and added the warning.

We know the language on proposition 65 warnings is pretty heavy, but we wouldn’t sell any product if we weren’t completely satisfied by its safety. Like so many other companies, we’ve decided it’s simpler to change our packaging than worry about possible complications down the line. Fortunately, like so many other customers, you probably see so many prop 65 warning labels that you already understand our reasons. If you didn’t, we hope you do now!