Eyewear companies that do business in California are scrambling to comply with a May 11 deadline that requires them to warn consumers and workers of the presence of Bisphenol A (BpA), a chemical in polycarbonate known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive toxicity.

Last year, California relisted Bisphenol A on its Proposition 65 list, which includes hundreds of potentially hazardous substances. Until recently, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said it would publish a “safe harbor” list for products using BpA. The list would determine whether or not chemical exposures above the safe harbor level would trigger a Prop 65 warning label on its products’ packaging, or if a sign was needed at the workplace notifying workers of any materials they handle that may contain BpA.

Optical manufacturers, prescription labs and retailers hoped that polycarbonate lenses and frames would be protected in the safe harbor. But the OEHHA recently declined to publish the list, in effect requiring all companies selling or manufacturing products with BpA to warn of its presence or be subject to possible legal action after May 11, one year after BpA was added to the Prop 65 list.

I’m all for protecting consumers and workers from exposure to harmful chemicals. But California’s stance on Prop 65 as it relates to eyewear seems overreaching. Unless you chew the temple tips of your glasses, it seems unlikely that you’ll ingest BpA. And if simply wearing polycarbonate frames or lenses causes illness, we’d have seen a lot of sick eyeglass wearers by now.

Of course, that’s a common sense argument, not a scientific one. It won’t dissuade anyone who wants to bring a nuisance suit in California against an optical company making or selling products that contain even a trace amount of BpA. Until manufacturers of polycarbonate frames and lenses can convince California officials that their products should be exempt from Prop 65, they should be prepared to comply with the ruling and issue the requisite warning.

The Vision Council has published information about Prop 65 compliance, including a webinar on its website at thevisioncouncil.org.

Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology
akarp@jobson.com