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US retail giant stops selling into California 'because of Prop 65'

Company - BJ's ©Mike Mozart

US retail giant BJ’s Wholesale Club has, according to a source, stopped online sales to consumers in California because its products may not comply with the state’s recently updated chemical exposure warning law, Proposition 65.

The law requires businesses to provide warnings, typically in the form of labels or signs, for exposures to chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive harm. California maintains a list of chemicals it has determined present these effects, which currently holds around 900 substances.

The company, which has stores predominantly on the US east coast, but does not have any sites in California, confirmed that it has "opted to temporarily stop selling merchandise to consumers in California" but it did not officially confirm why.

However, on the company's chat portal, a customer services representative told Chemical Watch that BJ's no longer ships to California "due to a legal regulation called Proposition 65".

"The state of California requires a health warning label on products containing any of [more than 900] chemicals if those chemicals are present in a product in excess of allowable limits," the customer services representative added.

"At this time, our products are not labelled to meet these requirements. So (at least for now) we will no longer sell products in California."

BJ's appears to have taken action following significant amendments to the law, which took effect on 30 August, on how ‘clear and reasonable warning’ must be provided. The changes also brought new warning obligations for online retailers, which now must disclose to consumers that a product may expose them to a Prop 65-listed substance before they have purchased it.

BJ’s decision is of interest because US government data has shown that California’s economy is the fifth largest in the world, exceeding the UK’s. It is therefore a ripe market for US businesses. The company declined to answer Chemical Watch’s questions on why it decided to stop online sales rather than complying with the law, how this will, if at all, impact the company’s revenue and when it would resume selling into California.

Sam Delson, deputy director for external and legislative affairs at Oehha, the California agency which oversees the law, told Chemical Watch that the 30 August amendments have not changed the criteria for whether or not a warning is needed.

Other than for newly listed chemicals, the warnings required today have been required since the law's adoption in 1986, he said. The amendments only change the way clear warning must be provided.

Mr Delson said that occasionally consumers inform the agency that a company no longer ships a particular product to California because of Prop 65.

"In most cases, the products are health or nutritional supplements," he said.

But he clarified that Prop 65 does not ban or restrict any products: "If a company chooses not to ship into California because they don’t want to provide a required health warning, that is their choice, not a Prop 65 ban."

A debate over the efficacy of the law has been ongoing. Last week at Chemical Watch’s Safer Chemicals in Products conference in Boston, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) labelled Prop 65 an "unmitigated disaster".

Oehha and supporters of the law, however, say that it has led to significant reformulations and a reduction in exposure to hazardous chemicals across many products.

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