There has been a case swirling in California where the plaintiff, Mateel, sought to invalidate the existing safe harbor for lead exposure in that state. Businesses, including those serving the water industry, were worried that a successful result for the plaintiff would expose them to expensive lawsuits for selling products containing even trace amounts of lead.

The California Court’s ruling is in, and it is good news for those concerned about the existing safe harbor for lead exposure.

The Court has upheld the state-established maximum exposure level of 0.5 micrograms/day, concluding that the state agency responsible for establishing that safe harbor did not act in a manner that was either arbitrary, capricious, or entirely lacking in evidentiary support. Rather, the Court found, the state agency appropriately relied on its scientific expertise when reviewing complex scientific data and in interpreting its own regulations.

While the plaintiff, Mateel, had argued that the agency did not base the safe harbor level on adequate scientific studies, the Court rejected that argument. While the safe harbor was set using a somewhat unique approach, relying heavily on findings of a separate governmental entity, OSHA, the Court noted that those OSHA studies were “of high scientific caliber,” and that the State’s reliance on those studies was not arbitrary or inconsistent with its statutory duties. The Court noted that Mateel’s arguments with respect to those scientific studies, rather than proving their inadequacy, actually demonstrated why deference to the decisions of state agencies, especially agencies with a high level of scientific expertise, is so important.

Ultimately the Court concluded that the State’s actions were reasonable, and consistent with the flexibility built into Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. Thus, the Court deferred to the State and upheld the existing safe harbor exposure level as consistent with Proposition 65.

The Court concluded, “[i]n sum, the determination of how to properly to set the MADL was made by an expert scientific agency reviewing complex scientific data and interpreting its own regulations in light of its scientific expertise, and its decisions were neither arbitrary nor capricious nor entirely lacking in evidentiary support.”

Businesses doing business in California can breathe a sigh of relief.