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Deukmejian Prodded on Toxics Law

November 05, 1987|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | Times Staff Writer

Backers of Proposition 65, marking the first anniversary of the anti-toxic initiative's passage, charged Wednesday that business groups are seeking to undermine the measure and called on Gov. George Deukmejian to reject industry pleas for exemptions from the law.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), actor Ed Begley Jr. and environmentalist attorney David Roe also criticized the Deukmejian Administration for moving too slowly to implement the initiative, which won with overwhelming support from the voters a year ago.

"Industries are seeking to put loopholes in the law that you could drive the proverbial truck through," Reiner charged at a Los Angeles press conference. "We are now publicly calling on the governor not to give in to these industry demands and to implement Proposition 65 as it was passed by the voters."

The key test for Proposition 65 will come during the next few months as the Deukmejian Administration makes major decisions on how to implement the initiative.

On Feb. 27, businesses will be required to begin warning the public of exposure to "significant" levels of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer or birth defects. Starting eight months later, businesses will be prohibited from discharging those chemicals into drinking water supplies.

Undersecretary of Health and Welfare Thomas E. Warriner, who is overseeing implementation of the initiative, defended the Administration's record, saying the complexity of the measure has required a deliberate approach.

"We have moved carefully and we have moved cautiously," Warriner said. "We have tried to be sure that things that we did reflected good science and also provided the kind of predictability that people need. That has taken some time, but in view of the importance of the problem, I feel we have moved appropriately."

Proposition 65, one of the toughest anti-toxics laws in the nation, leaves several key issues to be decided by industry and the state, including what constitutes a "significant risk" from a cancer-causing chemical. The Health and Welfare Agency is in the midst of promulgating a series of regulations designed to help the affected businesses comply with the initiative.

But the Administration has also chosen to enter into issues not covered by the proposition, including whether to grant petitions from the food, drug, cosmetic and medical device industries requesting blanket exemptions from the requirements of the law.

Governor Is Involved

Warriner acknowledged that the governor himself is involved in deciding whether to grant the petitions, noting, "That's an important decision, and it's the kind of decision he would be involved in ordinarily."

Sponsors of the initiative, in calling on Deukmejian to reject the requests for exemptions, charged that these business groups were attempting to circumvent the initiative process.

"(Some) industries are attempting to do indirectly that which they could not do directly," Reiner said. "They could not defeat Proposition 65 at the polls and so they are presently seeking to weaken it."

List of Chemicals

Earlier this year, Deukmejian angered sponsors of the initiative by refusing to list as carcinogenic about 230 chemicals internationally recognized as causing cancer and birth defects in animals or humans. Instead, the governor said he would initially list only those chemicals proven to cause cancer in humans and would appoint a scientific panel to decide which other chemicals should be added to the list.

The measure's backers, contending that the initiative required the immediate listing of all substances known to cause cancer and birth defects either in humans or animals, won a court order requiring the governor to list the remainder of the chemicals. That ruling has been stayed, pending an appeal by Deukmejian.

In the meantime, the governor's scientific panel has considered many of the chemicals one by one and advised Deukmejian to place about 135 substances on the list, including alcohol, which can cause birth defects.

Action Expected

The panel is expected to act on other toxic chemicals by early next year and Deukmejian has pledged to follow the commission's recommendations.

But the effect of the governor's decision has been to delay the imposition of warning and discharge regulations on numerous chemicals that eventually will be added to his list.

Among the rules proposed by the agency are regulations that would guide businesses in the kinds of warnings they must provide to members of the public who are exposed to chemicals on the governor's list.

Under the proposed regulation, retail stores would be allowed to provide warnings on cash register receipts instead of labeling individual products or posting warning signs. But environmentalists, noting that the initiative requires the warnings to be "clear and reasonable," question whether it would be acceptable to warn consumers of the danger after they have bought a product.

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