Green Teens and the Great Chemistry Crusade!

AUG. 6, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

Californians are ignorant and unconcerned about toxic chemicals found in products sold to consumers, say supporters of the new California Green Chemistry Initiative. But in the name of bringing more information to consumers, backers hope to initiate dramatic new regulations that could require companies to completely change their manufacturing processes.

The Green Chemistry Initiative’s implementation was the subject of hours of recent legislative testimony on how best to protect the public from toxic substances. Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, conducted the joint oversight hearing.

Chesbro, while discussing AB 1879 and SB 509, the two bills that make up the Green Chemistry Initiative, said that reducing toxic materials through the “broad use of agency authority” with the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSE) was the goal. “We have to get this right and provide a pathway to better products,” he said.

The hearing’s theme seemed to be making California the first state to pass the stringent green chemistry regulations.

Michael Wilson, Ph.D., a research scientist at UC Berkeley, spoke at the hearing about his work at the university crafting what he called “modern chemicals policy.” He wasn’t subtle, either: “If the legislature does not act quickly, California loses the chance of being the early adopter,” he warned.

Wilson said that California is one of the largest consumers of chemical products in the world, with every person using “4.5 pounds of chemicals daily.” That’s just a per capita figure, of course — business firms are the most voracious chemical consumers.

Wilson’s concern was that small businesses have great difficulty entering the market using new chemical components because they can’t market products the way large manufacturers can. “California businesses will benefit from green chemistry,” he said. “We are uniquely positioned in California to take leadership.”

Nava said that eight states have already formed a clearinghouse to share green chemistry information and deal with the “data gap” — a lack of information about chemicals.

“Downstream businesses have poor information on chemicals and products in their supply chains,” Wilson said, agreeing. “If there was better information available, we would choose safer products.”

Representatives from the Marin-based group “Teens Turning Green” also spoke passionately about the difficulty in discovering the chemical contents in cleaning products, as well as what they see as the need for regulations. “We deserve products without chemicals,” said college student Erin Schrode. “The average person doesn’t know. You must mandate and implement this. It’s survival.”

Fellow Green Teen Mari Vial-Golden said she and her colleagues had conducted case studies on the cleaning products found in the janitor’s closet at their school and “were horrified by the ingredients.” Vial-Golden said the products were made up of “toxins that make people sick.” She said they attempted to create a list of safe products but found that there are only 10 items on the approved list. “We were disappointed by the third party certifiers and the products marketed as green and natural, but are not safe,” she said.

“What would your top priority would be?” Assemblyman Mike Feurer, D-West Holywood, asked the teens.

“Giving information back to consumers,” Schrode said. “We don’t believe people should have to choose.”

Then Nava asked some surprisingly astute questiosn. “Why do we need regulations if your group was able to figure it out? Could we allow the market and consumers to do it?”

Vial-Golden said they received a great deal of “push-back” from companies. “We need regulation for all companies to do the right thing, and for transparency,” she said.

The proposed green chemistry regulations have been developed by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Acting Director Maziar Movassaghi said that for the past 19 months the department has been building regulations “unlike no where else in the world.”

In fact, Movassaghi said the regulations “allow for innovation to deploy technology” and are nothing less than “an opportunity to reindustrialize California.”

DTSC released these new regs — under the less than exciting title of Green Chemistry Draft Regulation for Safer Consumer Products — on June 23 for review and comment. The Outline of Draft Regulations for Safer Products “proposes guidelines for scientific and systematic prioritization of chemicals and products of concern, certification of alternatives assessment and development of DTSC’s regulatory response.”

Of course, everyone shares the zeal of the DTSC or the Green Teens. The California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CMTA) submitted its concerns and final comments to the DTSC in a recent letter. Some of the problems outlined by the association include “The broad definition of ‘chemicals of concern,’ the unrealistic low 0.1% threshold, the lack of required sound science with which to base future decisions, the usage of intermediates other than Cal OSHA for responsibility, third party certification, and confidentiality issues.”

At the hearing, CMTA Communications manager Gino DiCaro summarized the proposed regulations in a very different way than the Green Teens. “ In the coming years, these regulations may significantly impact manufacturing operations, costs, production and responsibilities for products at the end of their useful life,” he said.

Put simply, the new regs would impose “Greening” Remediation and “Life-Cycle Approach” on products sold in the state by requiring the manufacturer to prepare an “Alternatives Assessment” that is similar to an Environmental Impact Report. But critics of the plan say the department has no timeline in which manufacturers should comply.

“Everything is toxic as any specific level,“ said Dan Caldwell, a Toxicologist with Johnson & Johnson. “If you take too much Vitamin A, it will kill you. Babies given too much oxygen at birth can be blinded. Who is better prepared to evaluate product than the people who manufacture it?”

The DTSC will begin the formal regulatory rulemaking process at the end of August or in early September.

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  1. Charles Sainte Claire
    Charles Sainte Claire 6 August, 2010, 21:47

    Erin Schrode

    If you want chemical free products, avoid dyhydro monoxide. It is a chemical, otherwise known as water.

    Reply this comment
  2. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 9 August, 2010, 07:20

    Yeah, I hear that one is extremely corrosive and is deadly to every single human on earth, yet the government not only allows us to be exposed to it every day, they tell us to drink excessive amounts of it daily and require that it be pumped into every building in the country! Something must be done about this killer substance!

    Reply this comment

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