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California Green Chemistry rules should be withdrawn

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

By Renee Sharp, EWG California Director

California is supposed to be a leader on all things green. That was certainly Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's message back in September 2008, when he signed two bills (AB 1879 and SB 509) that he said would propel "California to the forefront of the nation and the world with the most comprehensive Green Chemistry program ever established."

But environmental legislation is only as effective as the rules written to implement it. The state's rules for the green chemistry initiative have turned out to be a bait-and-switch ploy. That's why we at EWG joined more than a dozen public health and environmental public interest groups at a press conference at the state capitol last week to denounce them as a holiday gift to the chemical industry.

The new regulations would:

  • set an extremely high bar for the state to take action on a dangerous chemical by requiring proof of harm that is difficult to demonstrate when the substance causes subtle changes such as irregularities in infant brain development;
  • expand the loophole for proprietary information so that chemical makers can shield even more data on safety testing than in current law;
  • exempt chemicals from regulation if found in concentrations of less than 1,000 parts per million;
  • fail to provide credible independent scientific review of chemical manufacturers' assessments of alternatives to chemicals under scrutiny;
  • offer no fast track to get particularly dangerous chemicals out of products;
  • limit actions by the California Department of Toxics Substances Control between now and 2016 to three narrow categories of products;
  • place off-limits chemicals that other federal or state programs regulate;
  • exempt nanomaterials from regulation.

Harsh critiques from many voices It's not just EWG and other environmental advocates who object to the new rules. Others authorities who strenuously criticize them include California legislators, scientists, academics, public health officials, businesses, water agencies and many members of the state's own Green Ribbon Science panel.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), author of the Green Chemistry law, announced he "cannot support" the regulations because they "fundamentally alter... the approach called for" by his bill.

Among the harshest critiques filed with the state Department of Toxics Substances Control:

"[T]he current regulations have been diluted to such an extent that they do not achieve the primary objectives of the legislation that initiated them.... [They] do not establish an implementable process as required by the statute, nor do they promote or encourage green chemistry in the state of California."

Ann Blake, PhD, Principal, Environmental & Public Health Consulting Roger Mc Fadden, Vice President, Senior Scientist, Staples, Inc. Members, Green Ribbon Science Panel

"[T]he current proposed regulations would not effectively protect our water resources from emerging constituents of concern, may provide a false sense of safety while stalling urgently needed legislative actions addressing the most harmful substances, and leave publicly-owned treatment works and the public at large vulnerable the host of poorly evaluated chemicals used in consumer products."

San Francisco Public Utility Commission

"[T]he Revised Safer Consumer Products Alternatives Regulation does not lead us down a road to safer products."

Bay Area Clean Water Agencies Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group

"The Post Hearing Changes are substantial and they fundamentally change the proposed regulations.... While many deletions may have been in the spirit of streamlining the regulations, some of these deletions appear to weaken public protections."

Linda Rudolph, MD, MPH Deputy Director, California Department of Public Health

"With the publication of the Green Chemistry Initiative's final report in 2008, California EPA Secretary Linda Adams declared it a 'far-reaching market-driven strategy with an ambitious aim--the launch of a new chemicals framework and a quantum shift in environmental protection.'

In fact, the revised proposed implementing regulations undermine Cal/EPA's ability to accomplish this vision.... As such, we can no longer support these regulations, and we urge DTSC to withdraw them."

Megan R. Schwarzman, MD, MPH and Michael P. Wilson, PhD, MPH Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at University of California, Berkeley Members, Green Ribbon Science Panel Authors of the 2006 report to the California Legislature: "Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and Innovation"

"In my view, for DTSC to propose such a dramatically different set of regulations, seemingly out of nowhere and at the last minute, with no input from the Green Ribbon Science Panel seriously undermines the work and value of the Panel.

It simply is not a legitimate use of an expert panel to consult with it actively for two years, but then disregard it completely when what seems to be the real, near-final set of regulations is drafted."

Joseph H. Guth, Ph.D., J.D. U.C. Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry Member, Green Ribbon Science Panel

"[T]his new version of the implementing regulations for AB 1879 (Regulations) comes as a great surprise to us as it is substantially different from anything the Science Panel has seen and reacted to over these past months."

Debbie Raphael, Department of the Environment City and County of San Francisco Member, Green Ribbon Science Panel

Ken Geiser, Ph.D. Professor of Work Environment Co-Director, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production University of Massachusetts Lowell Member, Green Ribbon Science Panel

"There is no principled scientific basis for setting this de minimis level. [The 1,000 parts per million level of contamination that would trigger enforcement action.] It fails to recognize the wide range of potency of chemicals and the reality that numerous chemicals exhibit toxicity at levels which are orders of magnitude below the 1,000 parts per million level."

Timothy Malloy Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

Peter Sinsheimer, PhD, MPH Executive Director, Sustainable Technology & Policy Program UCLA School of Public Health

With such withering commentary from distinguished experts, the regulations, if enacted, would have no legitimacy. EWG and 32 other organizations are calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to rescind the regulations in their entirety, or the Green Chemistry Initiative that held so much promise for California will become an embarrassment to the state. Read our letter to the Governor. Then email him yourself!


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