Toxics Initiative Backers Oppose Hot-Line Proposal

Times Staff Writer

Backers of Proposition 65 have called on the Deukmejian Administration to reject the food industry's plan to use a toll-free hot line to satisfy the consumer warning requirement of the anti-toxics initiative.

Environmentalists and consumer advocates also expressed concern that the Administration will succumb to industry efforts to weaken Proposition 65 as officials prepare emergency regulations for the initiative's first warning deadline next month.

Under Proposition 65, businesses must provide a "clear and reasonable warning" to members of the public before exposing them to significant levels of chemicals identified by the state as causing cancer or birth defects. The warning requirements take effect Feb. 27 for the first 29 hazardous chemicals listed by the state.

Plan for Hot Line

The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. is seeking state approval of its plan to set up a 24-hour-a-day toll-free line to provide information about toxic chemicals that could be present in any of the 15,000 products sold in grocery stores.

But the Consumers Union, the Sierra Club and two Democratic legislators charge that such a system would not meet the initiative's requirement for "clear and reasonable" warnings.

"I call the 800 number 800-BALONEY, because that's exactly what it is," Assemblyman Lloyd Connelly (D-Sacramento) said Thursday. "It's not a warning. It's a public relations gimmick. The fact that it's considered at all is an embarrassment."

Opponents of the plan argue that it is unrealistic to expect consumers to leave a store and call for information about a product before buying it.

But representatives of the grocers and retailers say shoppers would have ample opportunity to get information before they go shopping. Newspaper ads and signs in the stores would publicize the toll-free number in advance of the Feb. 27 deadline.

Variety of Options

Health and Welfare Undersecretary Thomas E. Warriner, who is in charge of implementing the initiative, noted that regulations proposed by the state do not suggest a toll-free line as a alternative but also do not prohibit such a plan.

The draft regulations instead call for a variety of other options, including product labels, shelf signs and notices on cash register receipts.

Warriner said he would meet with the grocery manufacturers and consumer advocates in an attempt to reach a solution. But he noted the toll-free line proposal might not meet the requirements of the initiative because of the difficulty of assuring that accurate warnings would be provided in all cases.

On a separate issue, Warriner also said he would adopt a standard for exposure to certain chemicals that is weaker than the level sought by environmentalists.

Risk Factor

Instead of the frequently used risk factor of one additional case of cancer for every 1 million people, Warriner said he would adopt the standard of one cancer in 100,000 people for 30 different chemicals covered by Proposition 65. This standard would apply to a number of substances covered by the Feb. 27 deadline, including benzene, asbestos and arsenic.

Warriner said he would use the weaker standard only in conjunction with scientific studies that are based on conservative assumptions.

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