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State picks first products for 'green chemistry' screening

March 13, 2014|By Marc Lifsher

SACRAMENTO -- California's landmark “green chemistry” program is about to go public with a first list of consumer products that might need to be reformulated or pulled from retailers’ shelves altogether.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has identified three groups of goods as “priority” candidates because they contain hazardous compounds that could pose dangers to people or the environment.

-- Tris phosphate, or TDCPP, is used in children's foam padded sleeping products, such as nap mats, as a fire retardant. It is a known carcinogen.

-- Spray polyurethane foam systems containing unreacted diisocyanates CQ, an insulation that can cause severe asthma for installers, including do-it-your-selfers, when still wet.

-- Strippers and surface cleaners with methylene chloride, used to remove old paint and varnish. It is linked to cancer and many other health problems.

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Manufacturers over the next 18 months will be required to analyze the three designated priority products to see whether they can come up with safer alternatives.

The new program -- the first of its kind in the world -- "requires manufacturers to answer the question: Is it necessary to make my product with the toxic chemical in it?” said Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Environmentalists welcomed the state's action, particularly the focus on sleeping mats. "Many companies are voluntarily moving away from hazardous materials, but ultimately legal requirements are essential to ensure that all products are safe and all businesses are competing on a level playing field," said Michael Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland.

The American Chemistry Council, a Washington trade group, declined to comment on the listing of the specific products. In an earlier statement, the council said it hoped the new state program "will ensure that consumers continue to have access to effective products that remain safe when used as directed."

The state's green chemistry initiative got underway in 2008 under then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with passage by the Legislature of two bills.

The idea was to abandon a piecemeal approach to banning specific chemicals from particular products, such as bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups and fire retardants in children's pajamas.

But, planning stalled amid squabbling between industry and environmentalists. The entire regulation-writing process was restarted in 2010 at the orders of incoming Gov. Jerry Brown.

State environmental-protection officials now are trying a more systematic approach. First, regulators drew up a list of 1,100 chemicals. The latest step involves identifying families of products, starting with the sleeping mats, foam insulation and paint strippers. Regulators expect to analyze and make rulings on three to five types of products each year.

Those could include such common consumer goods as nail polish that contains toluene, a possible reproductive hazard; carpet adhesive with formaldehyde, a carcinogen; and mercury in flourescent lights, Raphael said.

The goal, regulators said, is to reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products, to encourage manufacturers and retailers to make and sell safer cleaners, cosmetics and other common household items and to provide shoppers with information they need while shopping.

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