Tuesday, October 15, 2013

California presses ahead on regulation of toxic chemicals

In new battleground over toxic reform, American Chemistry Council targets the states

Companies will have to assess whether safer
chemicals are available and remove toxic
chemicals from their products.
Aiming to identify and remove dangerous chemicals from consumer products, California formally adopted new rules that go well beyond a flimsy federal protection net weakened by delays.

California’s Safer Consumer Products Regulations, described as the first of its kind in the country, allows the state to publish a list of potentially threatening chemicals — and then, by next April, target up to five priority products containing them.

Companies manufacturing those goods in California will have to launch detailed assessments to see whether safer chemicals are available and, if so, alter their products. The goal: To remove toxic chemicals from commerce and prompt industry to provide safe alternatives.

The initial target of five products, state officials say, represents the launch of an effort they envision bringing long-term change.

California is moving ahead against the backdrop of long-running delays in revamping federal statutes meant to protect consumers from toxic substances.

The federal Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, grants the Environmental Protection Agency power to require testing of dangerous compounds. Yet some four decades later, the EPA has rarely used that power as Congress has been tied up in a protracted effort to reform TSCA.

Under TSCA, the EPA said, it has “only been able to require testing on a little more than 200 existing chemicals,” and banned five. “Restoring confidence in EPA’s existing chemicals chemical management program is a priority for EPA and the Administration,” the agency said in a statement.

State officials across the U.S. support strengthening TSCA — but don’t want changes to handcuff their ability to protect consumers in their own states. Just last month, the Environmental Council of the States, a non-profit, non-partisan association of state environmental leaders, passed a resolution urging reform of the federal statutes. Among the group’s goals:

  • Preserving “state authority to protect citizens and the environment from toxic exposures and to manage chemicals of concern … ”
  • Ensuring that “the burden is effectively placed on manufacturers to prove that existing and new chemicals are safe.”

The American Chemistry Council, an industry advocacy group, has opposed hundreds of state bills in recent years, the organization’s tax forms show. The ACC says true toxic reform should come through TSCA, not the states, and backs a pending proposal pushed by the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

In California, the ACC pushed back against the new regulations. “At best the proposed regulation will produce a marginal improvement in human health and environmental safety, but at great expense and lost opportunities for businesses nationwide,” the council wrote in October.

Now, the state department will develop a list of “priority products” that contain one of approximately 150 toxic chemicals.

Editor's note: This article has been edited for length. 

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