Infant napping pads, varnish strippers and certain foam sealants made California’s first-ever list of hazardous products on Thursday, putting manufacturers on notice that they’ll eventually need to find cleaner ingredients to make those items or face government regulation.
While California government’s top environmental defender hailed the “Priority Products list” as a groundbreaking path to greener consumables, it has taken six years for the state to tentatively flag just a handful of toxic goods. The delay highlights the complexity of controlling toxic substances when consumer groups, the chemical industry, environmentalists, retailers and other interests all have a seat at the regulatory table.
“The deliberative process has not been easy,” said state Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matthew Rodriquez, “... but we’re ready to put this process to work to safeguard consumers in California.”
Thursday’s announcement at the California EPA headquarters in downtown Sacramento raised the profile of the beleaguered Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is running the “priority products” program. The department has suffered from budget cuts and negative news stories the last few years, including a 2013 disclosure that staff failed to bill for $100 million in chemical cleanup services.
Its new list is tentative and carries no legal consequences yet, but Rodriquez and Toxic Substances Director Debbie Raphael said that just publishing a tentative roster of products and the toxics they contain would educate consumers and might prod some companies to voluntarily remove the chemicals without a government mandate.
“Manufacturers could act now,” Raphael said.
The list flags soft-sided cribs, infant travel beds and other baby products with foam that contains TDCPP, a fire retardant linked with cancer and infertility.
Industrial-strength cleaners and paint- and varnish-stripping compounds containing methylene chloride, which gives off deadly fumes, made the list. So did unreacted diisocyanates, an asthma-inducing chemical found in spray polyurethane foam used for insulation, roofing and crack repair, among other things.
On the other side of the policy aisle, the American Chemistry Council, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, played down the significance of the state’s announcement.
In a press release, the trade group sniffed at the department’s product selection as needlessly duplicating ongoing federal safety assessments, and urged the state “to incorporate science-based information from existing sources.”
A lobbyist for the Environmental Working Group, Bill Allayaud, described the process as moving at “glacial speed,” bogged down by department budget cuts that have left it understaffed. Still, he said, the program is breaking new ground and can’t be rushed.
“They had to put together a program that was legally defensible,” Allayaud said. “They dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t.’ That’s a good thing.”
Michael Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, said the state’s action was “a small but important step in the drive for safer products made without harmful chemicals.”
The Legislature and former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger broadly described the painstaking process in a 2008 law. Its author, former Democratic Assemblyman Mike Fuerer, said the law aimed to make consumer product regulation a matter of science instead of politics. He won Republican support by arguing the measure would boost California’s budding “green chemistry” economy.
“I said that we can be the state where green products have their origin,” said Fuerer, who is now Los Angeles’ city attorney.
The measure received two-thirds support in the Assembly and the Senate.
Toxic Substances Control officials will finalize the list later this fall after it holds a series of public workshops to gather more information. Once the list of products is official, manufacturers have 60 days to report that they sell the targeted goods in California and then come up with an alternative, such as removing the chemical or switching to a safer one.
Sometime next year, the state will begin reviewing the manufacturers’ products and plans against the new rules. It has a wide range of regulatory options for items that still contain any of the three chemicals, from mandating warning labels to limiting their use to banning their sale in California.
Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.