California Implements the Country's First Green Chemistry Program

03 October 2008 Publication

Legal News Alert: Environmental

In 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger established the California  Green Chemistry Initiative (Initiative), a systematic and comprehensive approach to developing policy options for implementing a green chemistry program that unites scientists from California and around the world to evaluate the health effects of chemicals and create possible alternatives. On September 29, 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a pair of bills to implement the Initiative. This notable environmental milestone establishes California as the first state to pursue a comprehensive green chemistry program to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals in products and in the environment.

What Is Green Chemistry?
Green chemistry, also known as sustainable chemistry, is a philosophy that encourages the design of products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. By seeking to reduce and prevent pollution at its source, and by evaluating the potential hazards of a product during its development rather than after it is produced and used by consumers or disposed of (a kind of “cradle-to-grave” approach), green chemistry represents a large-scale paradigm shift in how we view chemicals contained in consumer products.

What Spurred California’s Action?
A 2006 University of California, Berkeley report found that long-standing weaknesses in the U.S. chemical management program, notably the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), have produced a chemicals market that discounts the hazardous properties of chemicals relative to their function, price, and performance. The report concluded that these market conditions represent a key barrier to the scientific, technical, and commercial success of green chemistry in the United States, and that fundamental policy changes are needed to correct these weaknesses. For instance, because TSCA does not require chemicals to be tested prior to placing them on the market, potentially hazardous chemicals can remain competitive in the market while undermining the commercial success of less hazardous products. To date, green chemistry has operated at the margins of the industrial system.

California Seeks to Set an Example
Governor Schwarzenegger has signed into law two companion bills that take significant strides toward making green chemistry mainstream. Assembly Bill 1879 establishes authority for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to develop regulations that create a process to identify and prioritize chemicals of concern and to create methods for analyzing alternatives to existing hazardous chemicals. It also allows DTSC to take certain actions following a chemical assessment, ranging from “no action” to “restrictions or bans.” The bill also establishes the Green Chemistry Initiative Science Advisory Panel to provide advice on scientific matters, chemical policy recommendations, and implementation strategies and expands the role of the California Environmental Policy Council (made up of the heads of all California Environmental Protection Agency boards and departments) to oversee critical activities related to implementation of the programs.

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

Much like Assembly Bill 32 changed how Californians view the greenhouse gases we produce, these companion bills will likely affect how we view chemicals in the products we use. Most consumers are unaware of the sheer number of chemicals in the products they use every day as well as their potential effects. The idea behind the bills is to enable California to prevent dangers, rather than simply address them when they present themselves on a “chemical-by-chemical” basis. By implementing a comprehensive approach to cataloging and monitoring substances, California’s stated intention is to promote innovation in a new industry sector and to contribute to consumer safety and the health of people around the world.

Legal News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information to our clients and colleagues.

If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss these topics further, please contact your Foley attorney or the following individuals:

Elizabeth A. Cason
San Diego, California

S. Wayne Rosenbaum
San Diego, California

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