Protecting Consumers, California Bypasses Feds to Regulate Toxic Chemicals

Search form

Protecting Consumers, California Bypasses Feds to Regulate Toxic Chemicals

Protecting Consumers, California Bypasses Feds to Regulate Toxic Chemicals
Mon, 10/7/2013 - by Ronnie Greene
This article originally appeared on Center for Public Integrity

Aiming to identify and remove dangerous chemicals from consumer products, California last week formally adopted new rules that go well beyond the flimsy federal protection net weakened by decades of D.C. delay.

California’s Safer Consumer Products Regulations, described as the first of its kind in the country, allows the state to publish a list of potentially threatening chemicals — and then, by next April, target up to five priority products containing them.

Companies manufacturing those goods in California will have to launch detailed assessments to see whether safer chemicals are available and, if so, alter their products. The goal: To remove toxic chemicals from commerce and prompt industry to provide safe alternatives.

“We’re not only saying something should be taken out,” Karl Palmer, chief of the state’s Safer Consumer Products Branch, said in an interview. “But we’re saying, ‘What’s going to be used in its place?’ So we are going to get from something bad to hopefully something that is better.”

The initial target of five products, state officials say, represents the launch of an effort they envision bringing long-term change. “The program starts out small, but it sends a big message,” Debbie Raphael, director of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, said in a statement. “Smart businesses are already planning ahead, looking for alternative chemicals they can promote as less-toxic, family friendly and environmentally safe.”

California is moving ahead against the backdrop of long-running delays in revamping federal statutes meant to protect consumers from toxic substances.

The federal Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, grants the Environmental Protection Agency power to require testing of dangerous compounds. Yet some four decades later, the EPA has rarely used that power as Congress has been tied up in a protracted effort to reform TSCA.

Under TSCA, the EPA said, it has “only been able to require testing on a little more than 200 existing chemicals,” and banned five. “Restoring confidence in EPA’s existing chemicals chemical management program is a priority for EPA and the Administration,” the agency said in a statement.

Continuing delays in enhancing the federal rules are “certainly a factor” in California’s new initiative, the state’s Palmer said. Consumers are also pushing for greener goods.

“The spirit and hope of TSCA, I think most people across the board would agree have not been fulfilled,” he said. “Had TSCA worked maybe we wouldn’t have needed to do this.”

He added, “We hope if and when TSCA is revived it will be for the good of everyone. We don’t really want to wait, we can’t wait for that.”

State officials across the country share the sentiment, and legislators from Maine to Washington State have pushed bills to strengthen their states’ abilities to disclose and remove harmful chemicals. Yet many such bills have failed in recent years, a Center for Public Integrity investigation found, amid heavy pushback from legislative critics, lobbyists and the chemical industry.

State officials across the U.S. support strengthening TSCA — but don’t want changes to handcuff their ability to protect consumers in their own states. Just last month, the Environmental Council of the States, a non-profit, non-partisan association of state environmental leaders, passed a resolution urging reform of the federal statutes. Among the group’s goals:

Preserving "state authority to protect citizens and the environment from toxic exposures and to manage chemicals of concern … "

Ensuring that "the burden is effectively placed on manufacturers to prove that existing and new chemicals are safe.”

“States don’t want to lose the ability to act to restrict a chemical in order to prevent harm to the public or the environment,” Justin Johnson, Deputy Secretary of the Vermont Agency for Natural Resources, told a House panel studying TSCA reform last month. “This ability to act is important to states because it is the backstop to a weak federal program, or a federal program that does not work as intended, or a federal program that acts very slowly or one that fails to act when reliable scientific data indicates that action is needed.”

The American Chemistry Council, an industry advocacy group, has opposed hundreds of state bills in recent years, the organization’s tax forms show. The ACC says true toxic reform should come through TSCA, not the states, and backs a pending proposal pushed by the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

In California, the ACC pushed back against the new regulations. “At best the proposed regulation will produce a marginal improvement in human health and environmental safety, but at great expense and lost opportunities for businesses nationwide,” the council wrote in October.

Yet unlike in other states, where multiple bills died amid industry and legislative opposition, California’s measure — sown over five years of study — moves ahead. “We’ve had push back, push forward from all sides,” Palmer said. “That’s what we’ve done over the past couple of years — listen to everyone.”

Now, the state department will develop a list of “priority products” that contain one of approximately 150 toxic chemicals.

By April, the state will cite up to five such products. “Companies that want to sell these ‘priority products’ in California will then perform ‘alternative assessments’ to determine if viable safer versions are available,” the California Department of Toxic Substances Control said.

If viable options exist, manufacturers could make the change or take the item off the market. “Or ultimately we could restrict the sale of this product,” Palmer said.

Originally published by Center for Public Integrity

Article Tabs

The coalition was set to deliver more than 200,000 signatures to the White House, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, calling for transparency and justice in police killings.

Divestment is less about denying fossil fuel companies the financial resources to operate – it's more about denying them reputation, legitimacy and “social license.”

Americans greatly underestimate the degree of inequality in our country – and if we were given proper media coverage of the endless takeaway of wealth by the super rich, we'd be taking it personally.

Wealthy people are often so isolated from the rest of us, many of them have forgotten how rich they really are.

Two political philosophers, Sheldon Wolin and John Ralson Saul, call for mass movements willing to carry out repeated acts of civil disobedience to disrupt and delegitimize corporate power.

Florida has the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2014, and also has a "foreclosure king" who is now disbarred for his failure to oversee employees accused of carrying out wrongful foreclosures.

Posted 5 days 11 hours ago

The city's social justice roots are centuries old – and today Seattle is also home to more than 70 social justice organizations and more than a dozen progressive film festivals.

Posted 3 days 12 hours ago

This isn't just a right to revolt, it's a call to revolt, an outright slam against apathy and nonresistance.

Posted 4 days 10 hours ago

Large corporations are the winners and taxpayers are the losers when transparency, accountability and the public interest are sold out to for-profit firms.

Posted 3 days 12 hours ago

"Peoples' movements will either succeed in transforming our economic and political systems to build a new world, or we will burn with the old one."

Posted 5 days 11 hours ago

Some critics say that the "militarization of the police" is happening right in front of our eyes – but if the Founding Fathers were so worried about a threat of domestic tyranny, how did we get here?

After a year in which destruction of the world's largest rainforest rose 29%, the new Alto Maues reserve has 1.6 million acres of mostly untouched forests that are not known to have human presence.

Inequality is all anybody can talk about, except Democrats on the campaign trail who desperately need to turn out the very people so disproportionately affected by it: young and minority voters.

The California city of Rialto saw an 88% drop in claims of police misconduct within one year of officers wearing cameras.

Large corporations are the winners and taxpayers are the losers when transparency, accountability and the public interest are sold out to for-profit firms.

Sign Up