POISONOUS PRODUCTS: New legislation proposed in California may force manufacturers to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products, like children's toys, furniture, and baby bottles. Image: ISTOCKPHOTO
Driven by revelations of lead in children’s toys and jewelry, hormone-mimicking chemicals in plastic baby bottles and controversial flame-retardants in furniture, state officials drafted a set of rules aimed at products with chemicals that have been linked to illness or abnormal development.
“We want to capture the products most prevalent in the society that contain chemicals that are very toxic,” said Maziar Movassaghi, acting director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, in an interview.
“They’re under our kitchen sinks, in our children’s closets and in our bathrooms. We don’t want California to become the dumping ground of products that can’t be sold in Europe or Canada or Japan,” he said.
California’s proposed program - although not the first effort in the nation to regulate toxic substances in consumer products - would be the most ambitious to date.
The Green Chemistry Initiative of 2008, a state law, requires the state agency to adopt regulations which would begin to take effect on Jan. 1, 2011. The rules - which took 16 months to draft - also target manufacturing processes that can harm the environment such as heavy water use, long transport routes and wasteful packaging. The state also is compiling a clearinghouse of hazards posed by chemicals under another section of the law.
Under the proposal, the state would establish a list of “chemicals of concern,” which would include carcinogens, mutagens, neurotoxins and compounds that disrupt hormones, persist in the environment, or accumulate in human bodies. Then the state Department of Toxic Substances Control would pick “priority products,” popular items that are heavily used by children, pregnant women, the elderly and other sensitive populations.
Manufacturers, suppliers and importers would have to certify to the state – and to retailers – that their products were free of chemicals on the list before they can sell them in California. In some cases, they would also do assessments to find safer alternatives.
The proposal already is meeting opposition from some industry groups.
The “draft regulations do not present a workable plan as written," according to the Consumer Specialty Products Association, which represents makers of cleaning and automotive products.
Doug Fratz, vice president of scientific and technical affairs, said the draft “goes far beyond green chemistry and seeks to create a complicated regulatory morass of requirements for companies to defend their products and keep them from being banned.”
Over the last few years, there has been a slow, worldwide trend toward “green chemistry,” which seeks to find safer alternatives for toxic substances. At the design stage of a product, engineers and other scientists pick raw materials that are benign and follow sustainable practices that consume less water and fuel and avoid pollution and waste.
The European Union has led the way, and many products that are illegal in Europe are sold in the United States. Maine and Washington have programs aimed at eliminating hundreds of dangerous chemicals, including mercury, lead and cadmium, but they are geared to protect children while California’s encompasses all vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and the elderly, as well as wildlife and the environment. California has the authority to require manufacturers to look for alternatives that make products safer.