CA Green Chemistry Initiative Backers Cry Foul At Last-Minute Changes

CA Green Chemistry Initiative Backers Cry Foul At Last-Minute Changes

Chemicals - CC license by Flickr user Horia Varlan

 With only a short time before California's Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI) is set to go into effect, a number of organizations and individuals, including the author of the bill that created the initiative, have been crying foul over its latest proposed regulations.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer, some members of the GCI's Green Ribbon Science Panel, the two lead authors of a University of California report on green chemistry's place in California and 33 organizations are asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to set aside the draft regulations that were released Nov. 15, saying that at the last minute the California Department of Toxic Substances Control drastically weakened the GCI and limited its scope.

The GCI has been in development for the past two years, with various rounds of regulations being discussed. Those against the latest regulations say they supported previous versions, but feel the newest changes weaken the state's fight against toxic chemicals.

"We just realized we cannot support these," said Renee Sharp, senior scientist and California director for the Environmental Working Group. "They are so far away from anything they are supposed to do. These are actually worse than nothing."

The new rules would require the state to prove that a chemical is harmful before being able to regulated, mirroring what's currently required at the federal level. The problem that many see with such a policy is that it makes it difficult to ban or limit chemicals that cause small changes over time, especially when people are exposed to multiple chemicals through various ways at the same time.

Two bills in Congress are trying to change that at the federal level by requiring companies to prove that the chemicals they're using are safe before putting them in products. Previous versions of the GCI regulations also focused on proving chemicals are safe before they're entered in the marketplace. "It was supposed to be precautionary," Sharp said.

The new regulations would also be limited to three categories — items for kids under 12 years old, household cleaners, personal care products — until 2016 and would not cover chemicals found in concentrations under 1,000 parts per million (ppm), eliminating a "huge amount" of chemicals, Sharp said.

Starting next August, federal law will limit lead to under 100 ppm in kid products, and the under-1,000 ppm limit would also remove bisphenol A from consideration for regulation.

The other points of contention raised by the opposition say the regulations: would allow companies to keep safety testing data secret by calling it proprietary information, wouldn't cover chemicals that other federal or state programs cover, exempt nanomaterials, and don't provide adequate scientific review of chemical companies' assessments of chemical alternatives.

"The rest of the country really looks to California to set precedent and be forward thinking," Sharp said. "If you have a bad model out there, that's not a good thing."

Even more, Sharp contends that the fact that the latest rules were up for only a 15-day comment period is illegal, since that short period is only supposed to be used when minor changes, like punctuation, are made. That period also included Thanksgiving.

The DTSC could not be reached for comment, but other news reports have said the DTSC plans to expand the scope of the GCI in the coming years.

Chemicals - CC license by Flickr user Horia Varlan