I recently bought a luggage set from Nautica and it came with a "California 65 warning: This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm."

Is it safe to use? I won't "eat" the luggage or anything similar, but is it possible to be affected just by being in contact with it?

I know that many products receive this warning in California, but it doesn't specify how carcinogen it is.

  • I'm a bit at a loss: what kind of answer do you expect to your question? People obviously don't have enough evidence to classify it as "something will likely happen" because else it would have been banned, not gotten a warning. People don't have enough evidence to classify it as "we are sure nothing will happen" because else they wouldn't be plastering a warning. So the warning itself tells you "nobody knows if there is a risk". What more do you expect to hear?
    – rumtscho
    Jun 16, 2015 at 14:33
  • Okay, I'll try to explain it better. According to Wikipedia the "Proposition 65 is formally titled 'The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986'.", which makes me wonder that only products that I might somehow ingest, or that might be in touch with something that I'll eat later, are harmful regarding to the prop 65. (because of the Safe Drinking Water part) So if I just have contact with the luggage, not ingesting anything that had contact with, will it be safe? If there is anything else that I can clarify, please let me know. And thanks for trying to help. :)
    – Xaphanius
    Jun 17, 2015 at 2:47
  • 1
    Your luggage may contain nothing harmful at all. In many cases, the Proposition 65 warning is an incantation used to ward off lawyers rather than a warning of hazards: see, for example, the appellate court opinion in *Consumer Defense Group v. Rental housing industry members -- the alleged carcinogens were automobile exhaust fumes from cars in parking lots, and the possibility that someone on the grounds of the apartment buildings might be smoking a cigarette.
    – Mark
    Jun 18, 2015 at 1:02
  • Hmmm, that makes sense and also remove many of my fears. Thank you @Mark! Do you want post it as an answer so I can accept it? :)
    – Xaphanius
    Jun 18, 2015 at 23:16

2 Answers 2


A California Proposition 65 warning doesn't really tell you anything about the safety of the luggage.

Proposition 65 requires warnings if somebody may be exposed to a substance that has a 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer over the course of 70 years, or has the possibility of causing birth defects or reproductive harm, as determined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

However, there is nothing preventing warnings even if there is no risk whatsoever. Proposition 65 permits members of the general public to sue over missing warnings, and California has a cottage industry of lawyers filing these suits any time they find something that doesn't have such a warning. As a result, these warnings are often used as an incantation to ward off lawyers rather than an actual indication of hazard. See, for example, Consumer Defense Group v. Rental Housing Industry members, where the list of potential carcinogens included "automobile exhaust from cars in the parking lot" and "the possibility that someone on the grounds of the apartment building might be smoking a cigarette". As part of the initial settlement of that suit, a warning was posted at the entrance to each building referring to a two-page list of things that might reasonably be found in or around an apartment building -- not because the apartment had lead-based paint, or used perchloroethylene cleaners, or had asbestos insulation, but to prevent further lawsuits.

  • The country of lawsuits then. Seeing from such anecdotes it feels quite horrible that anybody might sue for pretty much any absurd thing...
    – xji
    Oct 20, 2016 at 22:38
  • I think this answer is not quite technically correct. If my understanding from reading the OEHHA site is correct, the proposition doesn't require the warning if there is a risk, as there could be things that cause which are not on their list. It requires the warning if they use any of the chemicals in there list of close to 1000 chemicals, in a certain concentration. One way they can get out of having to place the label is to show a study which proves that in their particular usage of the chemical has less than 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer over the course of 70 years.
    – Uniphonic
    Jul 29, 2018 at 14:41
  • @Uniphonic, the point of my answer is that there is no downside to having an unneeded warning. Yes, in your example, the company can commission a study to show that their usage has a less than 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer, but it's far cheaper just to stick a label on it. The net result is that the warning is effectively meaningless.
    – Mark
    Jul 30, 2018 at 20:00
  • @Mark It's not meaningless, when you can find many products that don't contain the warnings because they've either don't contain health hazardous materials, or because they've done studies. If a product HAS hazardous material in it, but NO study has been done, the fact of the matter is that it COULD be hazardous to your heath, especially considering the material is a KNOWN hazard.
    – Uniphonic
    Aug 1, 2018 at 2:17

I think the currently accepted answer is incorrect on a number of points. The official California Proposition 65 (aka OEHHA) site FAQ, has more accurate information. There is also another FAQ from the Attorney General, which answers the question as well. The OEHHA site says:

The purpose of Proposition 65 is to notify consumers that they are being exposed to chemicals that are known to cause cancer and/or reproductive toxicity. Consumers can decide on their own if they want to purchase or use the product. A Proposition 65 warning does not necessarily mean a product is in violation of any product-safety standards or requirements. For additional information about the warning, contact the product manufacturer.

The currently accepted answer claims that "Proposition 65 requires warnings if somebody may be exposed to a substance that has a 1 in 100,000 chance", which is not true. Simply being exposed to a chemical that has a certain risk does not make the company required to post a warning. The chemical also has to be on the list. There could be substances which have risk, but are not on the list, and thus they are not required to post a warning.

Here is a quote directly from the OEHHA site, which shows the substance not only has to be on the list, but also has to be in a high enough concentration to create an unsafe exposure:

Proposition 65 applies only to exposures to listed chemicals. It does not ban or restrict the use of any given chemical. The concentration of a chemical in a product is only one part of the process to determine whether consumers must be warned about an exposure to a listed chemical.

The currently accepted answer is also incorrect in that it claims "However, there is nothing preventing warnings even if there is no risk whatsoever." This is blatantly false, because the law allows a business to prove that their use falls below the acceptable use threshold. Here is a quote directly from the California Attorney General's site:

Exposures that pose no significant risk of cancer: A warning about listed chemicals known to cause cancer ("carcinogens") is not required if the business can demonstrate that the exposure occurs at a level that poses "no significant risk." This means the exposure is calculated to result in not more than one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed over a 70-year lifetime. The Proposition 65 regulations identify "no significant risk" levels for certain carcinogens. The most recent list of no significant risk levels can be found here: http://www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65/getNSRLs.html.

Thus, businesses have the possibility to show their product is safe, and not post a warning even if it contains a chemical from the list. Small companies of less than 10 employees are exempted having to post a warning.

If a large company thinks it's cheaper for them to place warnings on all of their products, than it would be for them to do testing to see if their product is safe for consumers, that seems a bit of a red flag to me.

I found a particular product I purchased came with a warning, but when I looked on the company website though they acknowledged the warning, they wouldn't let their consumers know which offending chemicals were. This law is about the consumers "right to know". If the business posts a warning, but won't let you know what the chemicals are that are the cause for that warning, it seems a bit of a red flag to me as well. If consumer safety is not an important enough issue for a company to do the testing, it seems safer to me to just avoid those products where possible.

One more useful tidbit of information is that, according to the Attorney General, Proposition 65 has been successful in motivating businesses to eliminate or reduce toxic chemicals in numerous consumer products. This law is not only about helping consumers make informed decisions, it's about motivating companies to be more responsible for the safety of their consumers.

  • Adding a warning label costs a fraction of a penny per item. The typical cancer-risk study costs millions to tens of millions of dollars. For that matter, simply studying their supply chain and manufacturing process to see if any carcinogens are used could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the case of the luggage in the question, the expected sales volume is in the tens to hundreds of thousands of units; doing a study to see if their use of whatever-it-is is safe could easily add a thousand dollars to the price of each suitcase. Even seeing if a study is needed could add ten dollars.
    – Mark
    Jul 30, 2018 at 20:10
  • In regards to "However, there is nothing preventing warnings even if there is no risk whatsoever", is it really false? Is there anything in the law that would prevent me from taking a high-purity block of ice, carving a warning label into it, and selling it in California?
    – Mark
    Jul 30, 2018 at 20:23
  • 3
    @Mark There are many people who pay a premium price for food items that have an "organic" label on them, to reduce their chance of getting harmful chemicals into their body, or the environment. In a similar way, there are many people who will pay extra for a product that does not have a Proposition 65 warning on it, to get the peace of mind that their product either doesn't have harmful chemicals in it or safety testing has been done. There are big companies who make those options available to customers.
    – Uniphonic
    Aug 1, 2018 at 2:28

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