California Green Chemistry 2012: What You Need to Know

by | Jul 31, 2012

How the new CA draft regulation is different

On Friday, July 27, 2012, California published an updated version of the Green Chemistry oriented legislation, called the “Safer Consumer Products Regulation.”  The 76 page document comes with a 45 day comment period  [08-2012 update: comment period extended; the new deadline is October 11, 2012]. The regulation is expected to be final by the end of 2012.  Notably, the CA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) will release a draft list of roughly 1200 targeted chemicals-of-concern – but interestingly there are no stated threshold levels.  Here’s what you need to know about the draft regulation and about how the law will affect businesses.

Green Chemistry  Green Chemistry usually applies to manufacturing and it means: using chemistry to reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous materials.  If you don’t make product with toxic materials to begin with, you don’t have to worry about chemical dust on small children’s hands, toxic chemicals in waste dumps, or about risk exposure to a company brand when toxic chemicals are discovered after widespread product distribution and related spends on damage control.

The Green Chemistry concept is to solve the problem before it happens.  The work of green chemistry is largely a data-crunching exercise, performed in research and manifested in the product new materials approval phase.  Legislation in the United States usually finds itself with a “safer products” moniker for such initiatives.  California’s is called the Safer Consumer Products Regulation, and the latest draft, overdue, dropped on July 27, 2012.

The CA Safer Consumer Products Regulation  The latest draft of the Safer Consumer Products Regulation is 76 pages long and has a 45-day comment period.

During that 45 days, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) will release a related list of approximately 1200 chemicals-of-concern.  No details about the list have been forthcoming from DTSC or its insiders so far.

As for the regulation itself, it’s written to be applied in stages:

  1. DTSC creates a list of roughly 1200 chemicals of concern
  2. DTSC figures out which products contain notable amounts of chemicals of concern
  3. DTSC identifies those products with the most chemicals of concern
  4. DTSC contacts the manufacturers thereof
  5. The manufacturer must answer a series of interview questions about the chemicals of concern and the products in question
  6. Depending on those answers, there will be further action or not

What’s different in the new draft  There are two primary areas where businesses expressed concern over the old draft of the Safer Consumer Products Regulation: chemicals of concern list consistency and predictability.  The new version seeks to better address both.

CA chemicals of concern: consistency  By consistency, it’s meant that it would be nice if California’s list overlapped with myriad others popping up around the world.  The DTSC spokesfolks assures us that it will indeed overlap.

“One goal,” said Debbie Raphael, Director, DTSC, on a recent phone call, “is that California’s list should not represent disproportionate burden or stigma.”

And the numbers line up.  The new list of CA chemicals of concern is in the 1200 range, significantly reduced from its former size of 4500.  For the record, this is consistent with other state level Green Chemistry type laws: Maine’s list is ~1700, for example, and Washington State’s is ~2000. (Nothing has been revealed so far about the chemicals on the list specifically, and they are not to be confused with the California Prop 65 list, explained and downloadable here.)

One can easily imagine that the business community is concerned at the prospect of yet another list of chemicals to collect data on, analyze, and report about. Especially given the fact that most companies today have a global supply network and are already dealing with the pandemic of REACH in Europe and proliferating industry-specific Declarable Substance Lists (DSL) and standards, among others.

CA chemicals of concern: thresholds  Thresholds are tricky.  Let’s just say that.  The new draft version of the CA Safer Consumer Products Regulation handles thresholds by eliminating the .01% threshold from former drafts.  The reason is that if instated, the .01% threshold will be looked at by other states and nations as a precedent.  And let’s face it — the .01% threshold is not scientifically defensible for all chemicals of concern in all applications covered by the regulation.  Not to mention that testing equipment cannot be set that low, using recycled materials can bump your levels up, and at times naturally occurring instances of concerning chemicals, dioxins for example, can influence threshold levels unfairly.

So CA DTSC is looking at the .01% as a guideline only.  The agency will identify products in likely risk categories and send out the question to companies themselves, asking, “What is a reasonable threshold?”

The idea is that self-governing — at least ideologically, in setting safer product targets and goals — will be sufficient.  Let’s hope so.  The self-governing approach is far more reasonable than setting an arbitrary threshold amount just for the sake of having one.

CA green chemistry alternatives process  Notably, there’s not a lot of detail in the new Draft Safer Consumer Products Regulation about the alternatives analysis process.

CA chemicals of concern: predictability  Another way the new Draft Safer Consumer Products Regulation is different from the old is how it handles predictability of updates to the chemicals of concern list.  It’s obviously hard for companies if they can’t predict what the next batch of listed substances will be — or what types of things to look out for in planning and design for new products.

So the new draft regulation aspires to publish the first batch of chemicals (again, roughly 1200 of them) with a 6-month forecast of a likely pipeline of the next batch of chemicals.  After that, the CA DTSC aims to prepare a 3-year forecast list.  This way companies can screen their materials and chemicals against a forecast list, and can better choose criteria for the selection of priority products.

Timeline for adoption  Assuming the regulation is indeed finalized by the end of 2012, the timeline allotted for adoption would likely be – quote – “reasonable.”

Reasonable means that toy and auto companies, for example — and other manufacturers who also have significant safety testing requirements for new products — would be granted enough time to address not just vulnerable product formulations and Bills of Materials, but also to complete the safety testing processes.

Remember: the comment period is 45 days from date of publish. [08-2012 update: comment period extended; the new deadline is October 11, 2012].

End note  Hopefully this synopsis of the new California Green Chemistry regulation, a.k.a. the Draft Safer Consumer Products Regulation, has been helpful and answered your primary questions.  For more information, please visit consult a third party firm or try examining the CA DTSC web page for Green Chemistry.

K.M. Hurley is an award-winning writer, environmental regulations advisor, and Director at Actio.


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