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How to Reduce Lead Exposures With One Simple Statute: The Experience of Proposition 65

October 1999

Citation: ELR 10581

Author: Clifford Rechtschaffen

Editors' Summary: Human exposure to lead is one of the most serious environmental health threats today. Lead causes a variety of adverse health effects and is particularly harmful to children. Unfortunately, the current regulation of lead exposures is fragmented and often unsuccessful. California's Proposition 65, a right-to-know initiative, however, has achieved some noteworthy successes in reducing public exposures to lead. Proposition 65 has spurred faster and more significant lead reductions than federal law by prompting companies to reformulate products and change their manufacturing processes. This Article first discusses the hazards and uses of lead. The author next describes several instances that demonstrate how Proposition 65 has stimulated the development of new technologies and pollution prevention measures to reduce lead exposures. The author then examines why Proposition 65 has been more effective than comparable federal regulations. To conclude, the author notes that a simple, multi-media, self-executing statute like Proposition 65 can be more powerful than a host of complex regulatory programs in achieving actual reductions of pollutants in our environment.

Mr. Rechtschaffen is a Visiting Professor, University of California at Davis School of Law, and Professor, Golden Gate University School of Law. The author worked on implementing and enforcing Proposition 65 for the California Attorney General's office from 1986 to 1993. Vicki Clark, Caroline Farrell, Kristine Ogilvie, and Rebecca Sugerman provided valuable research assistance on this Article. Thanks to Richard Jacobs, Karen Kramer, Bob Percival, and Ed Weil for reviewing earlier drafts of the Article. Thanks also to Golden Gate University's Faculty Research and Development Fund for providing a research grant for this Article.