The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Initiative is a serious effort to address the hazards posed by toxic chemicals. Most Californians would be surprised to find out that our state government has no authority to assure that the goods sold at our local stores are safe for our families. The Green Chemistry Initiative has the potential to fix this problem – but only if it survives intense lobbying by the chemical industry.
Cal-EPA has gone all out to make the process of reforming chemical policy inclusive and interactive. Now that today’s report has laid out the options, the administration must begin the hard work of deciding which alternatives to adopt and which ones to propose in legislation.
The Green Chemistry process should result in major new statutory authority for the state’s experts to protect us from toxins that are currently allowed to contaminate our bodies and our environment. Voluntary measures and recognition of best practices have their place, but the only way to ensure meaningful reductions in human and environmental exposures to harmful chemicals is through enforceable safeguards. Collecting the most comprehensive and current data available is one essential building block of those safeguards.
The Legislature should give the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) the authority to, if warranted by scientific evidence from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, ban or restrict the usage of particular chemicals in consumer products. The process could be patterned on the Air Resources Board’s program that has successfully reduced emissions from consumer products.
Cal-EPA’s scientific experts will need to set priorities in addressing hazardous substances, and should start by protecting the most vulnerable people, like children. Our government must ensure that products many infants are exposed to — from baby bottles to toys to baby food containers — will be safe for the next generation.
Furthermore, manufacturers of products containing hazardous materials should be held responsible for the safe disposition of those products at the end of their useful lives. The Integrated Waste Management Board should work with the Legislature to require extended producer responsibility for such products, and should exercise that authority by prioritizing consumer products that, when discarded, become hazardous wastes (like mercury-containing thermostats).