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In 1986, California voters overwhelmingly approved the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, an initiative better known as Proposition 65. Voters passed the initiative to address the failure of government institutions to protect Californians from health threats posed by hazardous chemicals. Specifically, voters declared their rights to safe drinking water, to information about chemical exposures, and to strict enforcement of toxics laws. The statute has received extraordinary national attention for its innovative regulatory approaches, and has been alternatively labeled revolutionary and wildly irresponsible.

This Article analyzes how Proposition 65's warning requirement has fared in practice. Proposition 65 has had mixed success in realizing its underlying statutory goals of providing individuals with sufficient information to make meaningful choices and reducing exposure to toxic chemicals.

Part II of this Article provides general background about Proposition 65's provisions. Part III discusses the various rationales underlying information disclosure laws such as Proposition 65, and the statute's principal objectives. Part IV then analyzes the extent to which warnings provided by businesses have achieved the statute's goals. It first evaluates how effectively these warnings communicate to the public the information necessary to promote informed decisionmaking and satisfy the public's "right to know" in light of general principles of cognitive psychology and risk communication. It then analyzes the extent to which Proposition 65 warnings, or the statutory warning requirement more generally, have induced toxics reductions. This Part also considers whether the statute has promoted overwarning. Part V sets forth specific recommendations for improving the effectiveness of current warnings.


Copyright 1996 by The Regents of the University of California.
Reprinted from Ecology Law Quarterly,
Vol. 23, No. 2, by permission of The Regents of the University of California.

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