Green Chemistry Draft Regs: Toothless, Limited, Biased Toward Industry

by Renee Sharp, Environmental Working Group, California Progress Report

California’s Green Chemistry Initiative has been touted as a bold and innovative move toward more effective and efficient regulation of industrial chemicals in consumer products. But the Initiative’s draft regulations would perpetuate the most serious flaws of the current system: too weak, too slow and stacked against the public in favor of industry.

In two letters, nearly 50 environmental, public health, consumer and worker safety advocates from every region of California have written to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and to Cal-EPA Secretary Linda Adams, saying the draft regulations issued last month ‘fall far short of meeting the worthy goals of the Initiative.’

The letters, available at, strongly object to the lack of public participation and oversight and the dominant control industry will have over the process. The draft regulations will allow chemical companies and consumer product makers to keep valuable data on hazards and safer alternatives under consideration hidden as trade secrets. The completed alternatives assessments ‘ even the information not considered trade secrets ‘ will not be made public. Once a hazard determination is made, companies themselves will suggest the appropriate regulatory response by the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

‘Without public participation at every stage of the process, the Green Chemistry Initiative will become a closed conversation between industry and the Department…In as much as the objective of the Green Chemistry Initiative is to protect public health by promoting safer alternatives for chemicals in consumer products, it seems a fundamental error to limit the opportunities for consumers to participate in the decisions that are supposed to protect them and their families,’ says the letter to Adams, signed by 48 organizations including the League of Women Voters of California, California League of Conservation Voters, United Steelworkers Local 675 and the Consumer Federation of California.

In the letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger, Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy (CHANGE), a statewide coalition that has been monitoring the development of the regulations, says the lack of transparency and public oversight ‘unfairly stack the deck in favor of industry, which will have far greater opportunity to influence, delay or appeal the Department’s decision.’

CHANGE goes on to criticize the scope of the program, the pace of the process and its far too lenient threshold for considering whether chemicals and products should be regulated. "Some of the draft regulations represent a step back from current science and existing regulations," said Ansje Miller, coordinator of CHANGE. The letter says:

‘ The list of chemicals to be regulated by the program is limited to carcinogens and reproductive hazards in the state’s Proposition 65 registry, ignoring other chemicals already recognized and regulated by the state, U.S. EPA and the European Union.

‘ There is no fast-track process for dealing quickly with known bad actor chemicals, even those for which safer alternatives already exist meaning it could be years before notoriously harmful chemicals like lead or cadmium are addressed.

‘ The draft regulations propose that any product will be considered ‘safe’ if it contains no more than 0.1% of a regulated hazardous chemical. This so-called de minimus level is equivalent to 1,000 parts per million, an alarmingly high figure in a day in which science has proven harm from chemical doses measured in the parts per trillion. The state’s existing standards for cancer-causing substances in drinking water are an average of 300,000 times more stringent than 1,000 ppb.

In all, the proposed regulations read like a chemical company’s wish list. Green Chemistry was passed with promises of a new, more effective and efficient way to protect the public from toxic chemical exposures, and the state is essentially putting all of its eggs for regulating chemicals into this basket. We’ve got to get it right.