There’s nothing like toy shopping online for your kids when you’re hit with an ominous warning: “This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
What on earth does it mean? And how wary should you be?
The warning stems from California’s Proposition 65 — aka the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 — which protects the state’s drinking water sources from being contaminated with chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, according to the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).
It also warns about products in general that might cause exposure to chemicals identified by the state as causing cancer or reproductive toxicity. In 2016, OEHHA adopted new regulations — they went into effect in late August 2018 — that changed the information required on Proposition 65 warnings.
So now parents who live anywhere in the country are seeing them through several major online retailers, which are required to include the warning when a product doesn’t mean OEHHA standards.
That sounds pretty terrifying. How worried about this should you be?
“We shouldn’t ignore warnings, but here in California you walk into a Starbucks and there’s the warning. You walk everywhere and there’s this warning,” Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Prop 65 includes a list of more than 900 chemicals “that have been shown to potentially cause cancer or birth defects,” Fisher says. “That in and of itself makes you jump back.”
Some of those potential harms, says Samara Geller, senior research and database analyst at the Environmental Working Group, “may be associated with cumulative exposure to small doses over time,” while “in other cases, including with certain endocrine disruptors such as BPA, exposure during critical windows of development may impact the growing brain or reproductive system in detrimental ways.”
That said, Fisher notes, “the cancer-causing ability of these chemicals is rare.” Still, she recommends keeping in mind how your child is going to use the toy before you brush off the warning.
“Are they going to put it in their mouth? That’s the most concerning,” she says, noting that “toddlers mouth everything.” Still, she adds, that doesn’t mean that all children are going to develop cancer if they do end up putting one of these toys in their mouth. “Just be aware that it has been identified that one of the chemicals in this product could potentially cause cancer,” she says. “I would just view it as a warning, like anything else.”
If your child is older and you end up purchasing a toy that’s been flagged by the Prop 65 warning, Fisher says you can encourage your little one to wash his or her hands after playing with the toy “if you want to be completely cautious and safe about the warning.”
Still, “I would caution families not to get too concerned about that warning,” Fisher says. “Just think about what your child is going to be doing with the toy and go from there.”