Prop. 65 Backers Fear Deukmejian Cave-In on Toxics

Times Staff Writer

Backers of Proposition 65 charged Tuesday that Gov. George Deukmejian may be caving in to industry demands to limit the application of the ballot initiative to 25 chemicals known to cause cancer in humans rather than a much longer list of suspect substances.

The supporters--including two assemblymen and a Sierra Club representative--argued at a press conference that the voter-approved anti-toxics initiative specifically calls for Deukmejian, by March 1, to issue an initial list of more than 200 cancer-causing substances compiled by two internationally recognized scientific panels.

A year after a chemical is listed, businesses would have to warn consumers of exposure, and eight months later--by November, 1988--businesses would be banned from releasing significant amounts of the substances into drinking water supplies.

But a number of business and agricultural groups, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, have contended that the governor at the outset need only issue a short list of 25 chemicals proven to cause cancer in humans.


In a January letter, the groups, all of which opposed Proposition 65, urged Deukmejian to leave out chemicals that “are of concern but lack sufficient scientific evidence for listing.” These chemicals should be added only after a detailed review of the evidence by a panel of scientific experts that Deukmejian plans to appoint later this year.

That interpretation infuriated supporters of Proposition 65. They contended that provisions of the measure that won 63% voter approval last November gives the governor no choice but to list about 225 chemicals identified by the National Toxicology Program or the International Agency for Research on Cancer as causing cancer. Both groups list chemicals that cause cancer in experimental animals, even when there is no direct evidence that the substances cause cancer in humans.

To the proponents, how Deukmejian resolves the dispute over which chemicals must be listed will be the first real test of the pledge he made more than a month ago in his State of the State address to “fully implement Proposition 65.” Thus far, there has been no clear indication of which direction Deukmejian will take. Some Administration sources privately admit that there is a sharp internal split over which course to follow.

The initiative backers are hoping that public discussion of the seemingly technical issue of which chemicals must be listed initially will force Deukmejian to reject industry’s demands.


“We are very disturbed by signs and reports that the governor’s office may not comply with the March 1 requirement,” said Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), one of the measure’s principal financial backers. Industry is urging the governor to begin with a list about one-tenth as long as the one contemplated by the initiative’s authors, Hayden said. “This is no solution at all, a 10% solution at best, and a clear violation of the law.”

“We want the list, the whole list, and nothing but the list,” added Assemblyman Lloyd G. Connelly (D-Sacramento), another strong supporter of the initiative.

“If the governor issues the short list asked for by industry, we will be in court within a very few number of hours,” Connelly said.

“As one of the authors, I would have to say that the language and the intent of the (initiative) statute are crystal clear,” said Sierra Club political director Carl Pope, who worked on the drafting of Proposition 65. “If this statute is not clear on this matter, then no statute is clear on any matter.”


Studying Language

However, the Deukmejian Administration is continuing to look at the language of the initiative to determine what the state’s voters meant to accomplish, said Deputy Health and Welfare Secretary Thomas E. Warriner, who is heading the Administration’s effort to implement Proposition 65.

“There are various interpretations, and they range from zero chemicals listed on March 1 to over 200,” Warriner said in a brief interview. “We are trying to decide what is the legal minimum.’

The lists of chemicals compiled by the two scientific panels that are referred to in Proposition 65 include 25 chemicals proven to cause cancer in humans, as well as several manufacturing methods.


Some of those substances continue to be in widespread use--including benzene, which is present in gasoline and auto exhaust, and vinyl chloride, used in the manufacture of plastics. However, many of the chemicals on the short list have either been banned outright or have only limited application, such as certain cancer-fighting agents that themselves have been shown to cause cancer.

The longer list of more than 200 chemicals includes a number that are strongly suspected of causing cancer in humans--including the insecticide ethylene dibromide, or EDB, which was banned from use as a fumigant after it was found to contaminate fruits and baking products at high levels.


Under Proposition 65, Gov. George Deukmejian must issue a list of chemicals “known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity” by March 1. Businesses would have to warn against exposure to listed chemicals and would be barred from discharging significant amounts of the substances into drinking water supplies.


Proponents argue that the ballot measure specifically requires the governor to include more than 200 chemicals identified as causing cancer.

However, a number of industry groups, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, contend that the governor need only include 25 chemicals proven to cause cancer in humans-- omitting those shown to be cancer-causing in other animals. If the governor heeds that advice, these are cancer-causing chemicals that would be among those omitted from his initial list:

FORMALDEHYDE--Heavily used to make plywood, particle board and other wood products; also present in insulating foams, automobile emissions, synthetic fabrics, cleaning agents, cosmetics and even toothpaste.

PCB--Short for polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBS were widely used in electrical transformers, heat pumps, and as heat-resistant lubricants. Restricted in use in the United States since 1974, PCBs are still present in electrical equipment and are known for their persistence in the environment.


URETHANE--Used in a number of manufacturing processes, but also present, usually in very small amounts, in fermented products, including wine, beer, bread, soy sauce, yogurt and olives.

DIOXINS--A family of chemicals found to contaminate a number of pesticides, including Agent Orange, the herbicide that was widely used to defoliate forests in Vietnam and is now suspected of causing a number of health problems among Vietnam veterans and their children.

AFLATOXINS--A group of chemicals produced in moldy foods. Frequently found in nuts, peanut butter and grains; can also be present in meat, eggs and milk.

PHENYTOIN--Also sold as Dilantin, it is widely used to treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.


ETHYLENE OXIDE--A widely used industrial chemical, also used by hospital and health care workers to sterilize equipment. It is present in food, food additives and food packaging as well.

DDT--Once one of the country’s most widely used pesticides, DDT persists in the environment and can still be found air, rain, soil and drinking water and food products. General use has been banned because of its effect on animal reproduction, particularly in birds.

SACCHARIN--Once the most widely used artificial sweetener. Specific congressional action was required in 1977 to permit its use as a food additive after passage of the Delaney Clause, banning ingredients known to cause cancer in animals.

CHLOROFORM--A byproduct of the treatment of drinking water with chlorine. The amount of exposure depends on the amount of bacteria in the water.