State officials say they intend to start small next year, first compiling the list of chemicals from those already determined to be harmful by other government agencies. Also next year, they would choose the first batch of priority products. It is unclear how many products would undergo scrutiny. Little by little, more products would be examined.
Pesticides, pharmaceuticals and food packaging are not under the purview of the law because they are regulated by other agencies.
California’s Green Chemistry Initiative is roughly the same approach that the European Union is taking through REACH (Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, professor and chairman of the preventive medicine department at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
“In general, I would say this is good legislation because it will reduce the exposure of children, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations to toxic chemicals,” said Landrigan.
Landrigan said it was especially important that the state passes the rules “because we know from long experience that California has long been a leader. Programs that start in California spread nationally and even globally.”
Richard Denison, a biochemist at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., who has been following proposals to reform the federal Toxic Substances Control Act in Congress, credited states for their efforts in trying to reduce toxic chemicals.
“The only reason there’s been progress at the federal level after decades of inaction is because states stepped in to fill the void,” Denison said. “We are finally having a serious debate not over whether to reform the law but how.”
In past years, industry groups have lobbied the California Legislature opposing bills to ban flame-retardants and phthalate plastic softeners as well as bisphenol A, an ingredient in hard, clear polycarbonate plastic used in some water bottles, baby milk bottles and liners of food cans. The businesses said they preferred a program in which government scientists, rather than politicians, would take a broader look at all chemicals.
During 16 months of workshops and meetings, there has been a range of responses to California’s effort to draft regulations, said the state’s Movassaghi.
“Up to now, we’ve had a constructive relationship with industry groups. But there’s not a consensus. Some want to invest in innovations. Some want to invest in lawsuits. Some are excited. They see the market potential. Some didn’t send scientists. They sent the lawyers,” Movassaghi said.
At Seventh Generation, a Burlington, VT., company that makes environmentally friendly household and personal care products, Dave Rapaport, senior director of corporate consciousness, said he was pleased that California is moving forward.
“We certainly think that manufacturers have the responsibility to ensure that the products they make are safe not only for the people who use them but for the environment,” he said.
Even at his green company, he said, “we’re not there, yet. We’re beginning now to look at the supply chain to make sure that toxic chemicals are not used. But it’s a long, hard effort.”