Thought Leadership


An overview of California’s Green Chemistry Initiative

August 13, 2009
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In 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger created the California Green Chemistry Initiative stating “a comprehensive and unified approach is needed to ensure good, accountable policy”. He encouraged the legislature and all interested parties to participate in the development of this Initiative. In April 2007, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), led by Director Maureen Gorsen, was tasked with developing the Initiative.

The goals of the Green Chemistry Initiative include developing a consistent means for evaluating risk, reducing exposure, encouraging less toxic industrial processes, and identifying safer, non-chemical alternatives. Green Chemistry is a fundamentally new approach to environmental protection, transitioning away from managing toxic chemicals at the end of the lifecycle, to reducing or eliminating their use from the start.

Despite environmental and occupational legislation during the past 30 years, some experts believe that chemical policy in the U.S. has not been adequately protective of human health or the environment. For example, the 1976 Federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the most notable of the chemical policies, does not require producers to examine comprehensively or fully disclose information about the hazardous products they produce, creating gaps in the understanding of the health and environmental effects of many of the 83,000 substances listed on the TSCA inventory.

Yet, these substances come into contact with people — in the workplace, in their homes, through their use in products, ultimately entering the earth’s ecosystems at some point during their lifecycle. Only about 1,000 chemicals and pollutants are presently regulated by federal statute.

According to the University of California (UC Centers for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH), “2008 Green Chemistry: Cornerstone to a Sustainable California”, chemical- and pollution-related diseases among children and workers in California cost the state’s insurers, businesses and families an estimated $2.6 billion in direct and indirect costs per year. The report states that, in 2004 alone, more than 200,000 California workers were diagnosed with deadly, chronic diseases — such as cancer or emphysema — attributable to chemical exposure in the workplace. Over that same year, 240,000 cases of preventable childhood diseases related to chemical exposures were diagnosed.

On December 16, 2008, Cal/EPA’s DTSC issued the “California Green Chemistry Initiative—Final Report” with the final recommendations of the Green Chemistry Initiative. The recommendations are the result of Cal/EPA’s collaboration with experts worldwide to develop the best options for a comprehensive chemical policy.

These six recommendations include the following:

Expand Pollution Prevention
  • Expand pollution prevention and product stewardship programs to more business sectors
  • Broaden technical assistance programs beyond hazardous and solid waste reduction by adding green chemistry and engineering lifecycle approaches
  • Create incentive programs to assist California businesses that adopt green chemistry and engineering practices


Develop Green Chemistry Workforce Education and Training, Research and Development and Technology Transfer
  • Incorporate green chemistry and green engineering principles in California’s public education and the existing Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) program
  • Enhance scientific curricula in green chemistry, engineering, and materials sciences at California’s universities and colleges
  • Develop postsecondary and career technical training programs for lab technicians for new clean industries and the materials sciences industries
  • Foster research and development in new green materials and technologies
  • Encourage establishment of green chemistry technology transfer centers (“R&D Incubators”) for rapid commercialization
  • Create programs to increase global market opportunities for California green businesses
  • Create high-skill, high-wage green worker jobs for Californians


Create an Online Product Ingredient Network
  • Require consumer friendly online disclosure of chemical ingredients for products sold in California, while protecting trade secrets
  • Create low-cost and easily-accessible online web portal for product ingredient


Create an Online Toxics Clearinghouse
  • Establish an online clearinghouse for chemical toxicity and hazards
  • Appoint a Green Ribbon Science Panel to prioritize chemicals of concern and data needs
  • Enter into data-sharing agreements with other countries and states to link scientific studies worldwide and avoid costly duplication of effort


Accelerate the Quest for Safer Products
  • Create a systematic, science-based process to evaluate chemicals of concern and alternatives to ensure product safety
  • Task the Environmental Policy Council with oversight to ensure multimedia (air, land, water) concerns are addressed
  • Pursue consistency in enforcement statutes governing toxics in products


Move Toward a Cradle-to-Cradle Economy
  • Set a voluntary goal to achieve “Cradle-to-Cradle” economy by 2050
  • Establish a California Green Products Registry to develop green metrics and tools (e.g., environmental footprint calculators, sustainability indexes) for a range of consumer products and encourage their use by businesses
  • Direct state agencies to lead by example in the purchase of sustainable products


California Green Chemistry Legislation: On September 29, 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger signed two green chemistry bills (AB 1879 and SB 509) to establish a broad Green Chemistry policy for the State of California and create a mechanism for public information, regulatory review of toxic chemical uses, and evaluation of safer alternatives for those products sold in California. These two bills directly coordinate with DTSC’s final policy recommendations.

AB 1879 (Feuer and Huffman) authorizes DTSC to establish a process, including a multimedia life cycle evaluation, to identify and prioritize chemicals of concern, evaluate alternatives, and specify regulatory responses. AB 1879 requires the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), by January 2011, to adopt regulations establishing a process by which chemicals, or chemical ingredients, in products may be identified and prioritized for consideration as being chemicals of concern. The bill also establishes a Green Ribbon Science Panel to provide implementation advice and expands the Environmental Policy Council to oversee critical program activities. The regulations also require the DTSC to specify actions it may take following the completion of the analysis, including:
  • requirements to provide additional information;
  • requirements for labeling, or other type of product information;
  • controlling access to, or limiting exposure;
  • managing the product at the end of its useful life, or funding green chemistry challenge grants; and
  • restrictions on the use of the chemical of concern in the product, or prohibitions on use.

    The second bill, SB 509 (Simitian), requires the DTSC to establish a Toxics Information Clearinghouse for the collection, maintenance, and distribution of specific chemical hazard traits and environmental and toxicological end-point data. The DTSC shall make the clearinghouse accessible to the public through a single internet web portal. The OEHHA would be required, by January 1, 2011, to evaluate and specify the hazard traits and environmental and toxicological end-points and any other relevant data that are to be included in the Clearinghouse.

    The bills can be found at: (AB 1879) http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/asm/ab_1851-1900/ab_1879_bill_20080820_amended_sen_v94.pdf

    (SB 509) http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/sen/sb_0501-0550/sb_509_bill_20080822_amended_asm_v89.pdf

    Development of Regulations to Implement the Green Chemistry Initiative: The DTSC Regulatory Team recently solicited comments and suggestions for regulatory text at locations throughout California during Safer Alternative Regulations Workshops. During the initial Workshops, attendees provided input to draft regulations to create a process for identifying and prioritizing chemicals of concern and create methods for analyzing alternatives to existing hazardous chemicals. Suggestions made during the Workshops have been posted on the Green Chemistry Wiki and DTSC’s website.

    The Wiki is intended to be an innovative approach to involving the public and a way to accelerate the completion of the rulemaking process within the two remaining years of the Schwarzenegger Administration. The Wiki allows anyone to access and contribute or modify content, using simple on-line tools. DTSC has posted a series of questions on the Wiki related to the following four key areas of regulatory focus:

    Regulatory Trigger: When is the requirement to do an Alternatives Analysis triggered?

    Alternatives Analysis: What must be included in this analysis? Who performs it? How quickly must it be performed?

    Regulatory Response: What are the appropriate regulatory outcomes based on the Alternatives Analysis?

    Compliance, Auditing and Enforcement: What are possible of ensuring compliance with the law’s goal of moving toward safer alternatives for consumer products will be needed?

    The regulatory development schedule is very aggressive. The first areas of focus for the Workshops included the development of regulations for the Toxics Information Clearinghouse (January 29, 2009), and Safer Alternatives (two in February, and three in March and April, 2009). Further information on the workshops and the feedback received can be found at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/PollutionPrevention/GreenChemistryInitiative/

    Safer Alternative Regulations: A proposed set of regulations to address Safer Alternatives were drafted and are available for viewing and comment at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/PollutionPrevention/GreenChemistryInitiative/.

    DTSC Staff was asked during their public Workshops whether worker safety was one of the issues they would be addressing, and their answer was unequivocally affirmative. They referenced specific language in AB 1879, one of two pieces of enabling legislation. It requires the DTSC to coordinate preparation of a multi-media lifecycle evaluation for the proposed regulations that includes worker safety impacts.

    The Staff further indicated that, if a broad-based definition of “consumer product” is adopted, worker safety issues would most likely be included in the regulatory scope. For example, manufacturers/ processors of intermediate products for further processing into finished products might be considered “consumers.”

    California Industrial Hygiene Council (CIHC) Input to Public Process: The CIHC has commented on the proposed regulations twice now. Their comments are available at http://www.cihconline.com Go to Updates: July 13, 2009 Green Chemistry Initiative--Response to Straw Proposal and April 14, 2009 CIHC Comments to DTSC Green Chemistry Initiative.

    What You Can Do: It is important to follow this Initiative and its evolution. Be prepared to understand it, participate in the public Workshops, comment on proposed regulations and educate those who will be impacted. This is an important Initiative and deserves the best scientific, operational and legislative counsel. Make sure your voice is heard!
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