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Tougher Warning on Gasoline Peril Is Due at Stations

Times Staff Writer

Seven major oil companies agreed to toughen their warning signs notifying consumers that cancer-causing chemicals are present in gasoline and around gas stations, industry officials and environmentalists announced Wednesday.

“One of the biggest industries in the state has now agreed to give the kind of clear, direct warning message that Proposition 65 was set up to require,” said David Roe, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund and a principal author of the anti-toxics initiative.

Vague Warnings Until Now

The notices, which are required under Proposition 65, have until now provided only vague warnings advising the public that “detectable amounts” of chemicals known to cause cancer “may” be present. The new signs will make it clear that hazardous chemicals are in fact present in petroleum products and on the premises of service stations.

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The change in the warnings was announced jointly by the seven companies--Atlantic Richfield, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, Shell, Texaco and Unocal--and three environmental groups, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The announcement comes as the environmental organizations pursue a $1.3-billion complaint filed with the state charging that eight supermarket chains and 28 tobacco companies have not complied with the warning requirement.

Under Proposition 65, businesses are required to warn members of the public if they expose them to chemicals that are known to cause cancer. Failure to provide a proper warning can result in fines of up to $2,500 per day for each violation.

Michael Cardin, a spokesman for Unocal, said the oil industry decided to strengthen the warnings so they are closer to those outlined in state regulations.

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Representatives of the companies discussed the issue with environmentalists, he said, in the hope of coming up with warnings that would be acceptable to the sponsors of Proposition 65.

Stressing Compliance

“We wanted to make sure that everyone who had a stake in this felt we were in compliance,” Cardin said.

The basic warning that will now be provided in service stations will read: “Chemicals known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm are found in gasoline, crude oil and many other petroleum products and their vapors, or result from their use,” Cardin said.

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Health officials are not able to say how much exposure to these chemicals could cause cancer but advise motorists to avoid breathing the fumes and to minimize skin contact.

Since the warning requirement took effect in February, the notices used in many gas stations have said: “Detectable amounts of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm may be found in crude oil, motor fuels and many other petroleum products.”

Cardin acknowledged that toughening the warning may prevent lawsuits from the environmentalists or other citizens seeking to enforce the warning provisions of the initiative.

“We certainly aren’t averse to reducing any exposure (to a lawsuit),” Cardin said. “We still think the other one is legally adequate but this brings us closer to the (warning spelled out in state) regulations.”

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Roe welcomed the industry’s action to comply with the spirit of Proposition 65. In the past, oil companies such as Chevron have been among the biggest opponents of the initiative.

“They are acting voluntarily,” Roe said. “They are taking the law’s requirements seriously and, from our point of view, we hope they are setting a pattern for other industries to follow, both in giving clear, unevasive warnings and in voluntarily complying with the letter and spirit of the law.


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