California First in Nation to Enact Green Chemistry Program

SACRAMENTO, California, September 30, 2008 (ENS) - California will reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals in consumer products and the environment under legislation signed Monday in Los Angeles by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The two bills enable the state to take more responsibility by 2011 for identifying and regulating such chemicals and for analyzing safer alternatives.

Governor Schwarzenegger said the legislation "will spur a new era of research and innovation and promises to drive economic growth and competition in the green chemistry sector."

"This bi-partisan package of environmental legislation propels California to the forefront of the nation and the world with the most comprehensive green chemistry program ever established," the governor said.

"It also puts an end to the less effective 'chemical-by-chemical' bans of the past," he said. "With these two bills, we will stop looking at toxics as an inevitable bi-product of industrial production. Instead they will be something that can be removed from every product in the design stage - protecting people's health and our environment."

The legislation is a response to growing concerns raised by scientists and public health advocates about unsafe and untested chemicals in consumer products.

While many consumer products include harmful substances, from lead-tainted toys to linens with toxic flame retardants, there is currently no state agency that has broad-based authority to take these products off the shelves or spur the development of safer alternatives.

The governor signed AB 1879 by Assemblymember Mike Feuer, a Los Angeles Democrat, and SB 509 by Senator Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat. Each legislator also co-authored the other's companion measure, and they both worked with Republican lawmakers to craft the bills.

Assemblymember Feuer said, 'Instead of putting partisan politics first, we're putting peoples' health first."

AB 1879 establishes authority for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to develop regulations that create a process for identifying and prioritizing chemicals of concern and to create methods for analyzing alternatives. It allows DTSC to impose "restrictions or bans" on chemicals of concern.

The bill establishes a Green Ribbon Science Panel made up of experts to provide advice on scientific matters, chemical policy recommendations and implementation strategies, and to ensure implementation efforts are based on science.

It expands the role of the Environmental Policy Council, made up of the heads of all California Environmental Protection Agency boards and departments, to oversee implementation of the green chemistry program.

SB 509 creates an online Toxics Information Clearinghouse, a database to increase consumer knowledge about the toxicity and hazards of thousands of chemicals used in California every day.

"Californians currently have little if any access to information about the many thousands of chemicals that are commonly used in their products, released into the environment, or present at their workplaces," said Senator Simitian. "The governor's signature on SB 509 represents a significant breakthrough in the ultimate goal of protecting people from exposure to harmful products."

Simitian chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee which held hearings in 2006 to discuss the findings of a report by the University of California's California Policy Research Center entitled "Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and Innovation." The report revealed that on any given day, the United States produces or imports 42 billon pounds of chemicals that may cause problems for human health and the environment.

The Chemical Industry Council of California is supportive of the new legislation, endorsing the comments of attorneys Todd Maiden and Eric McLaughlin of the council's affiliate member, the law firm of ReedSmith.

"The most prominent features of California's green chemistry law are its foundation on science and real-life assessment of chemical usage and exposure risk," write Maiden and McLaughlin.

"Like all new regulations, those promulgated under the Green Chemistry law will impose operational changes and up-front compliance costs on the regulated community. However, change also presents new opportunity," they write. "Compliance with California's green chemistry law will likely reduce the costs of proper hazardous waste management and disposal, and satisfaction of workplace safety and health requirements. New opportunities to market products and processes as eco-friendly will also arise."

Sierra Club California Director Bill Magavern helped to shape the legislation and he was present at the signing ceremony. He asserted Sierra Club's position that, "Californians should be able to buy products for our households without having to worry that we're bringing home hazardous substances that could harm our families."

"We worked hard all year long with Mr. Feuer and our allies at Breast Cancer Fund, California League of Conservation Voters and Environment California to craft this landmark legislation," Magavern said.

"These legislative measures are the beginning of a much-needed overhaul of the state's broken chemicals management system," said Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., president of the Breast Cancer Fund. "With the signing of these bills, our state is taking a historic step toward reducing Californians' exposure to toxic chemicals."

Advocates say they are committed to working with the governor over the coming months to implement the legislation. But they also urge the Schwarzenegger to release his Green Chemistry Initiative recommendations, which are expected to include a more comprehensive plan for chemical policy reform and the search for safer, less toxic chemicals.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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