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EPA’s New 'Safer Choice' Label Identifies Healthier Products

Bob Siegel headshotWords by RP Siegel
Leadership & Transparency
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It’s a bit refreshing to have an administration in Washington that is not beholden to the petrochemical industry. Not only has that enabled the administration to take decisive and appropriate action on climate change, but it also has allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to freely pursue its mission, which is to protect the people living in this country and the environment that they live in from man-made hazards.

Earlier this month, the EPA announced a new labeling program to certify the safety of a number of household chemicals. The Safer Choice label applies to kitchen and bath cleaners, carpet cleaners, and laundry products. This video features EPA Director Gina McCarthy announcing the program, which is a partnership between the EPA, industry representatives and environmental groups.

The program previously used the Design for the Environment, or DfE label. The agency worked with numerous stakeholders, including product manufacturers and environmental and health advocates, to review the label in order to increase its impact.

Some 2,000 retail products currently qualify for this labeling. The existence of the label has applied subtle pressure on manufacturers, resulting in many new product lines developed specifically to meet the EPA criteria.

The standard operates on the principle of “informed substitution,” which compares the toxicity of each ingredient to that of its functional equivalent (e.g. surfactants, solvents, chelating agents, etc.). Those awarded the label are certified as having “the safest possible ingredients to make a high-performing product.”

The standard also considers “whole product characteristics, like possible negative synergies between ingredients and pH level, as well as lifecycle factors, like energy efficiency and water savings.”

As a result, “the Safer Choice label offers a readily identifiable way to know that a product is as safe as possible for people and the environment,” the EPA said.

While EPA does not necessarily test each product it certifies, it relies instead on a detailed analysis of each ingredient based on extensive knowledge built up in an effort that has been ongoing for many years.

The new rollout also includes changes to the underlying Safer Choice standard which was modified to include three categories: consumer products, industrial and institutional products, and the all-new fragrance-free products. This label assures consumers that no “fragrance materials” have been added specifically to modify the fragrance. It does not necessarily mean that the product has no odor, as the inherent ingredients could have an odor. These products must also meet the underlying Safer Choice standard.

The program also includes certifications for products containing microorganisms. In this segment, the EPA prefers to partner with the companies that manufacture the microorganisms and formulate products for end use. The standard requires that the “microorganism is not pathogenic to any species with which it will come into contact and will not cause any other adverse human health or ecological effects (e.g., producing metabolites that are more toxic than the parent) in the specific use of the product.”

No organism-based products have yet been approved for indoor use, pending the completion of an agency review.

Chris Cathcart, president and CEO of the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), praised the effort as a means of increasing product transparency and the availability of environmentally preferable products. “We are working closely with many partners, including retailers, non-governmental organizations and the EPA to identify ways that manufacturers and marketers can meet demands for ‘greener’ products,” she said.

A new bill (S. 697) under consideration in the Senate this month would revamp and strengthen the nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This would broaden the EPA’s reach in areas like asbestos, where the agency has no regulatory authority under current law. The bill, called Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, was sponsored by a caucus of eight Democrats and eight Republicans.

Among other things, this new bill will require a safety finding for all new chemicals before they can enter the marketplace and provides explicit protections for vulnerable populations including children and pregnant women. Should the bill pass, one would expect the Safer Choice program to be extended into additional areas.

Image courtesy of EPA

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he attended the World Future Energy Summit as the winner of the Abu Dhabi blogging competition.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

 

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