Another View: Green chemical regulations based on science

Meredith Williams
Meredith Williams

Without the engagement of both critics and supporters, California’s green chemistry regulations would not be as robust or hold nearly as much promise as they do for protecting consumers and the environment from harmful chemicals. So we appreciate the thoughtful opinion offered by Sam Blakeslee (“Green chemistry regs going off track,” Viewpoints, Dec. 3).

Blakeslee was a pioneering supporter and co-author of the green chemistry statute, which dramatically changes the way California will reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products. But those regulations are on track; the choice of consumer products is grounded in science; and the process has been broadly collaborative.

Before California’s Safer Consumer Products regulations, we relied heavily on chemical bans to protect consumers from toxic harm. The green chemistry approach aims to avoid the unintended consequences of bans, which sometimes resulted in substitute chemicals that were just as harmful.

The statute creates a structure for the Department of Toxic Substances Control to ask manufacturers to thoroughly analyze whether a chemical is necessary and if there is a safer alternative. This analysis must be broad and should consider human health, resource costs, and ecological and economic impacts.

DTSC must take a similarly broad approach to choosing the products on which we initially focus. Our decisions have been and will continue to be based on sound science. The breadth of possibilities requires policy decisions. In March, the department announced the first three priority products and the scientific basis supporting our selections. In September, we released a three-year work plan that identified seven categories from which we will choose the next products, based on rigorous analysis.

The experts on our Green Ribbon Science Panel advise us on how best to use science in the context of the regulations. Our staff are performing extensive research and relying on expertise of fellow scientists throughout state government. Where appropriate, we will lean on nonprofit, academic and industry expertise to refine our approach, while avoiding undue influence.

The chemicals eligible for consideration by DTSC were selected by authoritative bodies from around the world. The hazards associated with those chemicals have been extensively researched.

We are relying on science to make hard decisions and to create change. The more transparent we are about those decisions, the more likely industry, academia, consumers and others can imagine how possible it is in their own work.

Meredith Williams is deputy director of the Safer Products and Workplaces Program at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.