Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and Innovation

Date: Apr 19, 2006

At the request of the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee and the California Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, the University of California produced a report, published March 16, 2006, reviewing the state of chemicals policy in California. The premise of this report is that current-use chemicals are unsafe and that green chemistry is the key to solving the problems that chemicals are currently causing in the State of California. The report states that chemical bans and piecemeal approaches, which characterize the State's current policies, are not successful and a comprehensive chemicals policy is required to correct the Federal Governments longstanding failure to act. This includes the design, manufacture and use of safer chemicals.

The report states that current-use chemicals cause numerous adverse health effects both from environmental and workplace exposures, although it is not clear how the estimates of disease resulting from chemical exposures are made. It points to the nearly 700 chemicals found by EPA in biomonitoring studies, and states that animal studies have shown that some of these chemicals can disrupt development of organ systems. Statistics that 10% to 35% of asthma cases, 2% to 10% of certain cancers, and 5% to 20% of neurobehavioral disorders in children are caused by chemical exposures are given.

The report goes on to say that in California each month, an estimated 1,900 Californians are diagnosed with a preventable, deadly chronic disease that is attributable to chemical exposures in the workplace; another 540 Californians die as a result of a chronic disease linked to chemical exposures in the workplace. The report points out that OSHA has adopted workplace exposure limits for only 193, or about 7%, of the 2,943 chemicals produced or imported in the U.S. at more than one million pounds per year.

According to the report, TSCA does not require that health and environmental safety data be disclosed to EPA. This results in:

The Data Gap: Without comprehensive and standardized information on the toxicity and ecotoxicity for most chemicals, it is very difficult even for large firms to identify hazardous chemicals in their supply chains. Along with consumers, workers, and small-business owners, they do not have the right kinds of information to identify safer chemical products. The lack of chemical information weakens the deterrent function of the product liability and workers' compensation systems.The Safety Gap: Government agencies do not have the information they need to systematically identify and prioritize chemical hazards, nor the legal tools to efficiently mitigate known hazards.The Technology Gap: The lack of both market and regulatory drivers has dampened motivation on the part of U.S. chemical producers and entrepreneurs to invest in new green chemistry technologies. There has been virtually no government investment in green chemistry research and development.

The report identifies possibilities for a competitive advantage in cleaner technologies, pointing to developments in the European Union chemicals policies. The report recommends three chemicals policy goals for California:

Close the Data Gap: Ensure that chemical producers generate, distribute, and communicate information on chemical toxicity, ecotoxicity, uses, and other key data. Close the Safety Gap: Strengthen government tools for identifying, prioritizing, and mitigating chemical hazards.Close the Technology Gap: Support research, development, technical assistance, entrepreneurial activity, and education in green chemistry science and technology.

The report recommends that the Legislature establish a work group that would develop a comprehensive proposal for the 2007 legislative session. The report is available at http://www.efc9.org/publications/GCRF.pdf.

If you would like additional information on the California Chemical Policy development activities, please contact Diana Graham at graham@khlaw.com or 415-277-5953 or Herb Estreicher at estreicher@khlaw.com or 202-434-4334.