Prop 65 Notices and Lawsuits Target Cocamide DEA

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Cocamide DEA (coconut oil diethanolamine condensate) is a common ingredient in personal care products.  It is a viscous liquid used as a foaming agent in shampoo and soap products and as an emulsifying agent in cosmetics.  It can be found in shampoos, liquid soaps, body washes and bubble baths, among other products.  In June 2012 Cocamide DEA was added to the list of Proposition 65 chemicals, and warning requirements took effect one year later, on June 22, 2013.  To date, Notices of Violation concerning cocamide DEA exposure have been served on more than 350 businesses, and public enforcers have filed at least 16 lawsuits, most of them naming numerous defendants.  Lawsuits have been filed in both Los Angeles and Alameda Counties.

Proposition 65 is California’s right-to-know statute that requires businesses to provide clear and reasonable warnings before exposing Californians to a wide range of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm or both.  Proposition 65 requires a 60-day Notice of Violation to be served before public enforcers may file a lawsuit for alleged violation of the law.  The public enforcers who have served Proposition 65 Notices of Violation with respect to exposure to cocamide DEA include Center for Environmental Health, Shefa LMV LLC and ProtectConsumers LLC.  In addition, a number of individuals have become involved in Proposition 65 enforcement actions concerning cocamide DEA.  These individuals – Mark Lewis, Crystal Gerard, Mark Bates, Natisha Meloncon and Latonia Edge – are all represented by The Law Offices of Morse Mehrban.

2013 has been a particularly difficult year for manufacturers, distributors and sellers of personal care products.  In addition to cocamide DEA, other chemicals commonly found in personal care products and cosmetics became subject to Proposition 65 enforcement in 2013, including benzophenone and diethanolamine.

Businesses should carefully review the contents of the products they manufacture or distribute to determine whether those products may contain cocamide DEA.  Notices of Violation followed by prompt lawsuits have become the norm for alleged exposure to cocamide DEA.  Businesses must be proactive in protecting themselves from Prop 65 bountyhunters.  CK&E regularly helps clients with Prop 65 compliance issues.  If a Notice of Violation is received, CK&E handles responses to Notices of Violation and defense of businesses in Prop 65 actions to help resolve claims as efficiently and economically as possible.

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California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005: A Sleeper That May Awake in 2014

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California has a well deserved reputation for extraordinary efforts to protect consumers.  While the goals behind the regulations may be laudable, California’s many requirements impose enormous burdens on companies doing business in the state, often with questionable public benefit.  Proposition 65 is a familiar example of a regulation that requires elaborate warnings, but does not actually regulate the use of any chemicals.

There are many other examples, including a “sleeper” called the Safe Cosmetics Act.  Enacted in 2005, the Safe Cosmetics Act was heralded by its supporters as a landmark law that would protect the health of millions of Californians who use cosmetics.  In reality, the Safe Cosmetics Act is just another glorified reporting statute, requiring manufacturers of cosmetic products sold in California to file with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reports of information that is already on product ingredient labels.

But the Safe Cosmetics Act takes the idea of the consumers’ “right to know” to an extreme by imposing a precautionary rather than risk-based approach.  Unlike Prop 65, the Safe Cosmetics Act requires manufacturers to report use of chemicals that are not just “known” to cause cancer or reproductive harm, but also chemicals that are “suspected” to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  In addition, the Safe Cosmetics Act does not recognize any “safe harbor” levels for reporting – any amount of a “suspect” chemical must be reported.  Finally, cosmetic products that contain a reportable chemical must be reported regardless of whether the likely mode of exposure to the chemical by use of the product differs from the route of exposure identified by the authoritative scientific body as a pathway likely to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  For example, a chemical that has only been identified as “suspected” of causing cancer or reproductive harm when ingested must be reported even if it is contained in a skincare product.

In future blog posts, we’ll address why the Safe Cosmetics Act could become much more significant to personal care products manufacturers beginning in 2014, the risks of liability to manufacturers posed by the Safe Cosmetics Act, and how manufacturers can know if their products contain the regulated  chemicals.  At Conkle, Kremer & Engel, we help our clients meet compliance requirements, despite constantly changing state and federal laws.  With proper counseling, clients can avoid potential liability and minimize disruption to their businesses.

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Navigating Civil Regulatory Issues: CK&E Presentation Highlights Key Regulations for Beauty Companies Doing Business in California

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys were featured speakers at the Beauty Industry West presentation “Navigating in Challenging Regulatory Waters:  Updates on California and Federal Compliance.”  About 150 entrepreneurs, consultants, executives and beauty industry professionals attended the event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel LAX in Los Angeles on October 15, 2013, which included a valuable networking session and a post-presentation Q&A.

CK&E’s presentation about legal regulatory issues for personal care product companies doing business in California included an overview of the California Organic Products Act (COPA), Proposition 65 (California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act) and California’s Green Chemistry Initiative including the new Safer Consumer Products Regulations.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel’s materials from the BIW event, including the “Navigating Civil Regulatory Issues” presentation and its “Resource Guide for Regulatory Compliance,” are available for download on CK&E’s Regulatory Compliance web page.

Co-presenter Donald Frey, an industry veteran, regulatory expert and product development and innovation consultant, presented on key regulatory issues from the business perspective, including how to effectively deal with regulators. Mr. Frey has generously agreed to share his presentation, available for download here.

Among the questions and answers covered after the presentation were the addition of titanium dioxide (airborne, unbound particles of respirable size) to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals, responsible entities for purposes of compliance with the Safer Consumer Products Regulations, and the determination of organic ingredients under the National Organic Program standards.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are frequent speakers at events of interest to the beauty industry due to their expertise in representing manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers and salons in all aspects of their business, including the challenges of regulatory compliance.

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Five Additions to Prop 65 List of Regulated Chemicals

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The Proposition 65 list identifying chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm got a little longer in September 2013, with the addition of five new chemicals by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).

Effective September 13, 2013, chloral, chloral hydrate, 1,1,1,2-tetrachloroethane, and trichloroacetic acid are chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer for purposes of Proposition 65.  1,1,1,2- tetrachloroethane is commonly used as a solvent and in the production of wood stains and varnishes.  Trichloroacetic acid is commonly used in cosmetic treatments such as chemical peels and for the removal of tattoos and treatment of skin tags, warts and moles.

Effective September 27, 2013, chloramphenicol sodium succinate became a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer for purposes of Proposition 65.

The effect of the listings is that anyone doing business in California must provide a clear and reasonable warning before they expose consumers to any of these chemicals.  None of the five chemicals has an established safe harbor level for exposure, although Proposition 65 generally provides that there is no warning requirement if the exposures caused are so low as to create no significant risk of cancer.

Businesses have some breathing room to comply with the listings under Proposition 65’s safe harbor provision: No action can be taken by the Attorney General, district attorneys or private enforcers until 12 months after the listing of that chemical.  Thus, businesses will have until September 13, 2014 (for chloral, chloral hydrate, 1,1,1,2-tetrachloroethane, and trichloroacetic acid) and September 27, 2014 (for chloramphenicol sodium succinate) before any alleged failure to comply is legally actionable.

Proposition 65 applies to everyone in the supply chain.  Manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers and other entities doing business in California should take advantage of the safe harbor period and review the products they sell to determine whether chloral, chloral hydrate, 1,1,1,2-tetrachloroethane, trichloroacetic acid or chloramphenicol sodium succinate is present in any of their products.  If so, they should consider scientific testing to determine exposure levels.  Possible action that can be taken to proactively handle the new listings include reformulation or providing a clear and reasonable warning to California consumers.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has substantial experience in helping businesses understand and comply with the requirements of Proposition 65 and other regulations to avoid exposure to liability, and to respond efficiently and effectively if a Notice of Violation is received.

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A Proposition 65 Reform Bill Becomes Law: California Health & Safety Code Section 25249.7 Amended by AB 227

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On October 5, 2013, Governor Brown signed into law a bill that makes immediate changes to Proposition 65.  The amendments, which passed the California Legislature last month, impose a number of restrictions on private enforcers seeking to enforce Prop 65 against businesses that allegedly fail to provide a warning as required by Prop 65.  The bill that became law is Assembly Bill 227 (AB 227), introduced by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (Forty-Third District of California) in February 2013, and discussed in our March 13, 2013 blog post.

However, as AB 227 was enacted, only limited types of businesses are likely to benefit.  The amendments are very narrow, covering only certain exposures to alcohol or food-related chemicals, vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke.  Thus, the only businesses that are likely to benefit from the amendments are bars, restaurants, parking garages, and those who own or operate premises where smoking is permitted.

In general, the amendments establish a new “safe harbor”:  AB 227 prohibits a Prop 65 lawsuit from being filed by a private enforcer over an alleged failure to provide a warning concerning one of the specified exposures, if the business takes specified action within 14 days of receipt of the notice of violation.   The targeted business can escape a Prop 65 action if, within 14 days, the business:  (1) actually corrects the alleged violation; (2) agrees to pay a civil penalty of $500 per facility or premises within 30 days; and (3) submits a “Proof of Compliance” notifying the private enforcer that the violation has been corrected.  If the business takes the so-called “safe harbor” action in response to the notice of violation alleging failure to warn about exposure to alcohol or food-related chemicals, vehicle exhaust or tobacco smoke, the private enforcer is precluded from filing a lawsuit or collect additional civil penalties or attorneys’ fees from the business.

These types of piecemeal amendments to Prop 65 may increase public demand and political pressure for additional reform.  In May 2013, Governor Brown proposed sweeping, substantive reform to Prop 65, intended to end decades of “frivolous ‘shake-down’ lawsuits” by Prop 65 bounty hunters and their lawyers.  But by September 2013, those efforts stalled as stakeholders involved in the reform effort were unable to reach the consensus needed to generate the two-thirds majority approval that is required for any amendment of Prop 65 in the Legislature.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel constantly tracks the latest developments in Prop 65 in order to provide expert guidance and counseling to clients.  This latest amendment is a demonstration that businesses who receive a Prop 65 warning should immediately seek qualified legal counsel to help them avoid liability and unnecessary payments to Prop 65 claimants and their lawyers.  In fact, businesses are well advised to consult qualified legal counsel to review their compliance with Prop 65 before an immediate response becomes necessary.

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