If you bought a knife in the past, you probably noticed the inclusion of a sticker or piece of paper that says something along the lines of “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
Don’t be alarmed. You’re not going to get cancer or cause birth defects if you use and carry the knife regularly.
This warning, which can be found on knives from companies like Buck and Schrade, is the result of California’s Proposition 65. Way back in 1986, California voters passed an initiative aimed at reducing the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in drinking water. For the most part, the proposition was successful, but there were some downsides.
Part of Prop 65 prohibits businesses from knowingly exposing individuals to select substances without providing a clear and reasonable warning. That’s fine in theory—who wouldn’t want to know if there are cancer-causing chemicals in things. The only problem is that the substances on the list are pretty much present in everything.
That’s where our little label comes into the picture.
Even though this is a California regulation, many manufacturers include the warning in all of their packages because they aren’t always 100 percent sure the item will not be sold to a resident of California through dealers.
This issue was addressed over at Blade Forums by Joe Houser, director of consumer relations at Buck. Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote:
Our products are no different now than they were 30 years ago; but, because Buck Knives wants to continue to be a responsible manufacturer and continue to do the right thing, we have decided to include the warning label on our product packaging. Examples of things that have one or more of the items on California’s list are; brass, all brass contains lead and always has; stainless steel contains chromium. Both lead and chromium are on California’s list.
I’d recommend reading his whole response if you have a second.
So what’s on this dastardly list of harmful substances? You can see the full list of Prop 65 substances here, but it includes everything from the very bad like mustard gas and DDT to the mundane like aspirin and potassium bromide (which is used in Germany to treat seizures).
But the two main substances on the list that affect knives, as Houser wrote, are chromium and lead. Chromium is found in stainless steel and increases wear resistance and corrosion resistance. It’s actually the ingredient that makes a steel a stainless steel. Lead is found in brass.
That means if you happen to buy a knife with chromium or lead, you may see this warning, depending on the manufacturer.
As a resident of California, I just saw this cancer warning inside a Panda Express restaurant and it didn’t phase me, so don’t stress when the warning is included with your knife.