What happens when you mix concern for the environment, a fear of potential health risks, and a distrust of business? You end up with California’s Proposition 65, also known as Prop 65.

When passed in 1986, the proposition originally was designed to protect waters used for drinking, but eventually it went far beyond that. Now it’s known for a list of chemicals that the state believes could potentially cause cancer or birth defects. Prop 65 requires businesses to properly warn customers—in the form of a visible poster—of any chemicals on the list that could be present at their business.

What drives business owners crazy, however, is that the list is constantly expanding in ways that don’t always make sense to dealers and that could frighten customers unnecessarily. For instance, Ken Dunham, executive director of the Lumber Association of California and Nevada, notes that wood dust was added to the list in 2009, but Prop 65 does not clearly define what exactly wood dust is and what makes it a hazard. He says his association has been working to assist members to comply with the proposition as well as avoiding lawsuits stemming from the proposition, often from what LACN regards as “unscrupulous lawyers.”

Steve Patterson, president and CEO of Napa-based Central Valley Builders Supply, says Prop 65 compliance requires that his company spend time regularly to make certain it knows about all necessary listings. He says he had to go into other stores to make sure he was posting notices correctly.

Prop 65 is “a good idea gone awry,” Dunham says.

— Brendan Rimetz