Toxic Danger Hot Line for Consumers to Begin

Times Staff Writer

Grocery industry representatives announced Tuesday they will initiate a controversial toll-free hot line Saturday to begin providing consumer product warnings under Proposition 65, the anti-toxics initiative.

The sponsors of the hot line, however, said they do not know how many products--if any--of those covered by their system would actually require warnings under the new law.

Beginning today, the newly formed Ingredient Communication Council will run ads in more than 100 newspapers to publicize the hot line, although the system will not begin operating until 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning. Signs bearing the telephone number (800-431-6565) will also be placed in thousands of stores throughout the state in the next few days.

Consumer and environmentalist groups, who would prefer to see warnings included on the labels of products themselves, have threatened to file suit to scuttle the toll-free warning system, which they have branded as "800-BALONEY."

"They're engaged a lot more in public relations than warning," said Jim Shultz, a spokesman for Consumers Union. "People should not have to pick up the phone and make a special call to find out if a product contains the chemicals listed by the state as hazardous."

Proposition 65, which was approved by the voters in 1986, requires businesses to provide a warning if they expose the public to chemicals that pose a "significant risk" of causing cancer or birth defects. The law does not spell out precisely what kind of warnings are required, but says they must be "clear and reasonable."

Foods Not Covered

The warning requirement will go into effect Saturday for the first 29 chemicals identified by the state as causing cancer or birth defects.

It is unlikely that warnings will be required for any food products at this date since the state has issued emergency regulations granting a temporary exemption from Proposition 65 for foods, drugs and cosmetics that meet existing federal regulations. In addition, the regulations exempt hazardous chemicals that occur naturally in foods.

For the most part, the hot line will provide warnings for non-food items sold in grocery stores such as lighter fluid and motor oil that are known to contain chemicals on the Proposition 65 list, sponsors of the system said.

The grocery industry created the council to operate the toll-free hot line and give manufacturers the opportunity to avoid labels or shelf warning signs.

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