California’s Sweeping Green Chemistry Initiative Gains Ground

By Charles Lambert, Ph.D.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has proposed strict new regulations to reduce the use of potentially toxic chemicals in everyday products.  The DTSC believes that this Green Chemistry Initiative will lead to safer products, fewer exposures to dangerous chemicals, and a healthier environment.  The new regulations will apply to all consumer products, with few exceptions.

The current proposed regulations stem from Assembly Bill 1879, passed in 2008. The bill requires that by January 1, 2011 the DTSC establish a regulatory process to identify and prioritize chemicals of concern in consumer products.  It also requires the DTSC to prepare a multimedia life cycle evaluation for these chemicals. The initial list of priority chemicals is scheduled for release in March 2012 followed in September 2013 by a rundown of products that use those chemicals.

“Study after study has shown that many consumer products are not safe, resulting with more and more being recalled,” said DTSC Acting Director Maziar Movassaghi. “This draft regulation is the first of its kind in the nation, and it essentially shifts the way government, industry and the public think about the products that end up in our homes.”

  • At approximately 100,000 chemicals, the list that the initiative will regulate dwarfs Proposition 65‘s reach (900 chemicals)
  • For many companies it will make more sense to reformulate products nationwide rather than create a California-only version
  • Unless the company substitutes a safer chemical it will face repercussions ranging from a warning label to a marketing ban, depending on the level of hazard.

For companies producing and selling consumer products in California, the big question is how many and which chemicals are going to make it on the initial DTSC list of concern. Additionally, consumer products subject to the regulation are very broadly defined as any product used, bought or leased for use by a person for any purpose.   This has led to concern about the process by which DTSC will identify chemicals of concern (COCs) and the consumer products that contain those COCs.  Before using a COC, the new regulations will require manufacturers to perform an Alternatives Assessment on the priority product to determine if a viable safer alternative is available.  It could be very far reaching and fundamentally change how companies make their products. The regulations will also create tough governmental penalties for lack of compliance.

Chemical companies and others in the manufacturing industry should begin planning now for these regulations as it’s a matter of when, not if, the changes will have broad impact.  As of right now it appears that implementation will be gradual, focusing on the most toxic COCs and a short list, then potentially expanding over time. Some obvious initial candidates for the COC list include plasticizing products such as the phthalates, Bisphenol A, and various fire retardants.  There will likely be some exempted substances as well.

“I’m confident companies will step up to the plate and create new markets for green products,” Movassaghi said. “We’re already seeing the demand, and innovative industry leaders are responding to that demand more and more. California is a cradle for innovation, and these companies are clearly leading the way. We are on the threshold of achieving what no other state or country has achieved.”

These regulations present a significant opportunity for environmental consultants – especially  those specializing in green chemistry and product safety assessment.  While most large companies are already ensuring that they have the in-house expertise to understand which of their products may be subject to this regulation, there is significant outsourcing opportunity for some of this work.  In addition, most medium to small consumer product companies have no such in-house staff and will likely be relying solely on outside consultants.  The Phylmar Group, for example, has assembled a team of affiliates specializing in risk assessment, life cycle analysis and regulatory evaluation to assist clients in meeting the requirements of the green chemistry regulation.

For more information on the pending regulation, please see this PDF.

Charles E. Lambert, Ph.D., DABT, directs health risk assessments and toxicological evaluations. He has extensive experience in occupational toxicology and human health hazard evaluations.

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