It looks like California is once again picking up the slack for a federal agencies failing in their regulatory responsibilities. In this case, they’re addressing the issue of chemicals in consumer products, as a step toward a broader “Green Chemistry Initiative,” which is “aimed at promoting development of safer chemicals with policies to spur green design, manufacturing, use and disposal.”

The Sacramento Bee’s Steve Wigand explains this latest move from California:


The two-bill deal, negotiated among legislators, the Schwarzenegger administration and environmental and chemical industry groups, also would lay the foundation for the administration’s “Green Chemistry Initiative,” which would fundamentally change the way the state handles hazardous materials.

“I think we’re on the verge of enacting groundbreaking legislation,” said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles.

Feuer’s measure, Assembly Bill 1879, would give the Department of Toxic Substances Control until January 2011 to establish a science-based process to identify and evaluate problem chemicals in their manufacture, use and ultimate disposal.

It would give the department authority to regulate the chemicals, including banning their use in California.

It also would create a “Green Ribbon” panel of scientists to advise the department.
Senate Bill 509, by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would create a state-run Web site where consumers could search for information on chemical hazards.

The Director of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control points out that the state has been focused on emissions and waste, rather than the products in whose manufacture the toxic substances are used. She gives the example of a lunchbox containing lead: they have to be treated as hazardous waste, but the department can’t do much about kids eating out of them.

At the federal level, the Consumer Product Safety Commission could mandate a recall of lead-tainted lunch boxes or other problematic items, although the agency has been reluctant to actually use any of its limited power in recent years. Some items containing toxic chemicals can fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, but that agency has been overwhelmed by problems with contaminated drugs and bacteria-laden foods – and still can’t manage to ask for enough money to do its job properly. The Environmental Protection Agency lacks hazard data on the majority of high-production-volume chemicals used in this country, and probably won’t get a whole lot better until legislation makes it easier for the agency to require this information from chemical manufacturers.

In other words, the California legislation is probably the best shot at an improved chemicals policy for the foreseeable future.

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