Gov. George Deukmejian’s panel of scientific advisers voted Friday to list Vitamin A as a chemical that in high doses can cause birth defects, thus subjecting the substance to the requirements of Proposition 65.
The scientific panel also decided to place cocaine on the same list, although state officials acknowledged that it is unlikely that any enforcement action under the anti-toxics initiative will be taken against drug dealers.
Attempting to comply with a recent court order won by environmentalists, the panel provisionally designated the Environmental Protection Agency as an “authoritative” body. Under Proposition 65, that designation means chemicals identified by the federal agency as causing cancer or birth defects would be subject to the state’s anti-toxics law.
Series of Conditions
However, in a discussion that left even some members of the panel confused about what they were voting on, the panel attached a series of conditions to the EPA designation in a bid to limit the number of chemicals that ultimately would end up covered by Proposition 65.
Al Meyerhoff, an environmentalist attorney who helped win the court order, charged that the panel was attempting to thwart the initiative and prevent the listing of as many as 200 chemicals, including some hazardous pesticides.
The listing of Vitamin A posed a difficulty for the panel because the substance is essential to human health in moderate doses. In fact, Vitamin A deficiency in pregnant women is known to cause more birth defects than overdoses of the vitamin, members of the panel noted.
Departing from its normal procedure, the group of scientists voted to place Vitamin A on the list of chemicals known to cause birth defects--but only in daily doses of more than 10,000 international units. Pregnant women are advised to consume 8,000 international units of Vitamin A per day.
‘Dangerous in High Doses’
“The scientific panel today addressed for the first time what are called essential nutrients, in this case Vitamin A, which has the property of being dangerous in high doses or in (insufficient) doses,” said Health and Welfare Undersecretary Thomas E. Warriner, who oversees implementation of Proposition 65.
“The panel was faced with the need . . . not to discourage people from maintaining adequate intake of Vitamin A and at the same time warning people whose intake is dangerously high,” he said.
Under Proposition 65, businesses must provide a “clear and reasonable” warning if they expose anyone to a “significant risk” from any of the chemicals on the state list.
Deukmejian has agreed to follow the recommendations of the panel in placing substances on the list.
By adding cocaine to the list of chemicals known to cause birth defects, state officials said they did so to draw attention to the fact that cocaine, when consumed by a woman during pregnancy, can cause birth defects.
Environmentalists were quick to criticize the panel for attempting to place conditions on the designation of the federal EPA as an authoritative body.
The scientific advisers, for example, insisted on retaining the authority to take any chemical off the state list if they disagreed with the EPA’s assessment. Panel members, acting on the advice of chemical industry attorneys, also sought to narrow the number of chemicals designated by the EPA as toxic that could wind up on the state list.
Meyerhoff, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, charged that the panel is not complying with the court order issued last week requiring the panel to decide whether the EPA is an “authoritative” body.
“They are looking for every possible way of not requiring the listing of some of the most hazardous chemicals we know of,” he said.
Meyerhoff said that the actions of the panel have meant a two-year delay in the listing of cancer-causing chemicals used on a variety of crops, including Alar, a growth-inducing substance, and captan, a widely used fumigant.
If the EPA had been designated as an “authoritative” body, he said, as many as 200 more chemicals would already have been added to the 279 chemicals now on the state list.
Meyerhoff pledged to go back to court if the conditions imposed by the panel stand.
Warriner said he hoped that any disagreements between Meyerhoff and the panel could be resolved when the scientists’ action is formally drafted into regulations.