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What's "Safer"? Will DfE's Proposed Label Changes Send Misleading Messages?

Date: Sep 19, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working on redesigning its “Design for the Environment” label to help consumers and purchasers find “cleaning and other products that are safer for health and the environment.”  The goal – providing a more compelling label that consumers could look to – has resulted in a proposed label redesign that incorporates the word “safer” on the label.  While the concept of “safer” chemicals is part of the green chemistry movement, it is not apparent that EPA has thoroughly considered the potential for this new label to confuse consumers. 

Alternative chemicals, and products that incorporate them, may still pose some risks to consumers in use.  Even assuming substitute chemicals pose less risk to the environment than the previously used materials, chemicals and mixtures using substitutes may still pose risks.  Thus, the likelihood exists that consumers will encounter products labeled with a warning statement, like “Danger,” “Warning,” or “Caution,” and cautionary information of the sort required under Federal Hazardous Substance Act (FHSA) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, even when made with so-called “safer” chemicals.  Contradictory labeling could very well be confusing to consumers, potentially conflicting with important safety messages about proper use.  The EPA is accepting comments on the proposed label through October 30, 2014, and this potential conflict is a concern that industry players may wish to address.

For more information on green chemistry and other product safety initiatives, contact Sheila A. Millar at millar@khlaw.com or +1 202.434.4143; J.C. Walker at walker@khlaw.com or +1 202.434.4181;or Diana Graham at graham@khlaw.com or +1 415.948.2805.