SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian released a list of 29 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects in humans Friday in his first major move to implement Proposition 65. But the governor immediately ran afoul of sponsors of the toxics initiative who challenged his action in court.
Furious over what they said was Deukmejian's caving in to pressure from business and agricultural interests, lawyers for labor and environmental groups filed suit in Superior Court here seeking to force Deukmejian to expand the list to about 250 cancer-causing chemicals.
Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, a supporter of Proposition 65, also jumped into the fray, for the first time saying he would refuse to defend Deukmejian in court.
The chief point of contention is Deukmejian's position--outlined by Administration officials at a Capitol news conference--that the list of chemicals he is required by the initiative to publish refers only to chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects in humans.
'Highly Incomplete List'
The important word is "humans." Authors of the initiative claim that the ballot measure clearly intended that the list include chemicals known to cause cancer in animals, as well as humans. Because cancer takes years to develop, it is difficult to prove conclusively that a specific substance causes cancer in humans, and most government agencies therefore identify carcinogens through animal studies.
The suit, financed by the AFL-CIO, charges that Deukmejian "issued a highly incomplete list, which excluded a host of chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, genetic mutations, sterility, miscarriage and other adverse effects."
The aim of the suit is to expand the list to a larger group of chemicals known to cause cancer, whether in animals or humans.
Administration officials said their list met the requirements of the initiative.
Thomas E. Warriner, undersecretary of the state Health and Welfare Agency and head of the Administration's effort to implement Proposition 65, said the list of 29 chemicals represented all the known human carcinogens listed by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. Public Health Service's national toxicology program.
Some of the more familiar cancer-causing chemicals on Deukmejian's list include arsenic, asbestos, benzene, chromium, vinyl chloride, DBCP and lead.
Warriner said the broader list included chemicals that were "suspected" of being cancer-causing to humans but had not yet proven to be so.
Among the known carcinogens not included on Deukmejian's list are such chemicals as formaldehyde, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), urethane and chloroform.
In making the announcement, the Deukmejian Administration met a requirement of the initiative that he publish by March 1 a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.
Within 12 months, warnings about the harmful effects of the toxic substances will have to be issued by businesses that produce, sell or use the chemicals. Within 20 months, it will be illegal to release the substances into water supplies unless the release can be shown to be safe.
Secondary List Released
Administration officials, in addition to releasing a primary list of 29 cancer-causing chemicals, issued a secondary list of more than 200 other chemicals that they said would be reviewed by a panel of scientists for possible inclusion on the list.
Deukmejian did not attend the news conference, leaving the announcement to Warriner, Health and Welfare Agency Secretary Clifford L. Allenby and Wendell Kilgore, who will serve as head of a 12-member panel of scientists that will decide what chemicals will be placed on the list.
Chemicals on the list are contained in a wide variety of everyday products, such as gasoline, insulation and plastics. However, many of the substances on Deukmejian's list have already been banned from use by the federal government or are no longer manufactured.
The governor's list quickly became known as "the short list" because he left out more than 200 other chemicals that have been found in such common products as beer and wine, peanut butter and corn oil, particle board and paint.
'An Indefensible Position'
Al Meyerhoff, representing the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that joined in filing the suit, said of the governor's action, "It is simply an indefensible position in court.
"We don't wait until there are dead (human)) bodies," Meyerhoff said. "There's not a single state of federal environmental law in this country that applies to only human carcinogens."
At a news conference that followed the one conducted by Administration officials, Meyerhoff charged that chemical companies accomplished "through the back door what they couldn't do at the polls."
The attorney's comments reflected a revival of the political tensions that dominated the initiative campaign last fall.