chemicalsWhile efforts to reform the federal Toxic Chemicals Safety Act continue to inch slowly forward, the state of California has taken a bold regulatory leap into controlling toxic chemicals – at least those found in consumer products.

The Safer Consumer Products initiative by the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DESC) calls for publishing a list of chemicals that will be used to identify and eventually reformulate consumer products that could endanger public health and the environment.

Under the new regulations, the Department will develop a set of products, called “priority products,” that contain one of about 150 toxic chemicals included on the list. Manufacturers of priority products will be asked to evaluate the design of these products and to replace these chemicals with safer alternatives if feasible.

Five years in the making, the initiative is the first of its kind in the U.S. It officially went into effect Oct. 1st but will be phased in slowly, according to the DTSC.

Five priority products

From a statement by the department:

“By April 2014, DTSC will select up to five priority products based upon such factors as the extent of their use, the potential for public exposure to the toxic ingredient, and how the products eventually are disposed. Stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide input on DTSC’s selection of specific priority products since the selection will be finalized via the regulation adoption process.”

Companies that want to sell these ‘priority products’ in California will have to perform what the state is calling “alternative assessments” to determine if viable safer versions are available.

A big message

“The program starts out small, but it sends a big message,” said Debbie Raphael, DTSC Director. “Innovative and forward-thinking companies will realize the opportunities for growth that stem from this cutting-edge regulation. Smart businesses are already planning ahead, looking for alternative chemicals they can promote as less-toxic, family friendly and environmentally safe.”

Demand for green products has increased as consumers become more aware of potential adverse effects on health and the environment.

Reactions from health, chemical organizations

"This program represents a victory for public health,” said Gretchen Lee Salter of the Breast Cancer Fund. “For too long, toxic chemicals have been used in everyday products with no accountability. While there is still much work to be done, this is a big step for California and we look forward to working with the administration and the legislature to ensure the program lives up to its potential."

John Ulrich, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of California (CICC), also welcomed the new initiative.

“These hazard- and exposure-based regulations have the potential to motivate forward-leaning companies to make already safe products even safer, and simultaneously to focus on consumer products that truly pose significant or widespread adverse impacts for Californians,” Ulrich said. He added that the CICC will assist in the implementation phase and help to further integrate ‘green chemistry’ into the world of chemical regulation.”