A Proposition 65 (“Prop 65”) plaintiff has issued the first 60-Day Notice of Violation concerning 4-Methylimidazole (4-MEI).  4-MEI, a chemical compound used to make certain products, is one of the over 850 chemicals on California’s Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  4-MEI was placed on the Prop 65 list in 2011 because the National Toxicology Program concluded that 4-MEI caused lung tumors in laboratory animals.

On January 25, 2012, the Center for Environmental Health (an organization that frequently files lawsuits to enforce Prop 65) issued the first 60-Notice of Violation relating to 4-MEI.  The Notice alleges that several food manufacturers and supermarkets violated Proposition 65 by selling carbonated soft drinks with caramel coloring that contain 4-MEI without a Proposition 65 warning. 

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”) has issued a fact sheet on 4-MEI, available at http://oehha.ca.gov/public_info/facts/pdf/4MEIfacts_021012.pdf.  OEHHA notes that products that potentially contain 4-MEI include “certain colas, beers, soy sauces, breads, coffee, and other products.”

It remains to be seen whether other 60-Day Notices will be issued in the future concerning 4-MEI.  But since the chemical occurs in other food and beverages, particularly those that contain caramel coloring agents, it is important for companies to be on alert regarding the presence of this chemical in their products.