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February 1, 2008

Regulation

California Compiles Options For Greener Chemicals

Report calls collecting and disseminating toxicity data, labeling products essential

Cheryl Hogue

California could adopt elements of the European Union's Registration, Evaluation & Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) law as part of its efforts to promote green chemistry, says a government report released on Jan. 31.

For instance, collecting information about chemicals' toxicity and providing it to the public should be a key part of the state's green chemistry policy, says the report by the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA).

The report compiles hundreds of options for creating a new state chemicals policy. They were offered by industry, environmental groups, academics, and the public at large. Cal-EPA will study the suggestions and, by July 1, propose a package of policies to promote green chemistry.

Cal-EPA identified a handful of the options in the report, including the collection and dissemination of toxicity data, as "essential" for fundamentally changing the way the state deals with chemicals and waste.

Empowering consumers to make informed purchasing choices is another crucial component of a new California chemicals policy, the report says. Information about the toxicity of substances in a product should be included on a label or a notice on a shelf, it says. In addition, the state should expand its existing pollution prevention program, which helps businesses both reduce their use of toxic substances and increase profits.

Also vital, the report says, is for California to obtain and share chemical toxicity and use information with the EU, which is implementing REACH, and Canada, which is systematically scrutinizing thousands of substances in its domestic market. Meanwhile, state agencies should consider toxicity and the cost of buying, using, and disposing of products when they make purchasing decisions, the report says.

Another key piece of a new California chemicals policy is for the state to offer university scholarships and promote research and development in green chemistry, the report says. Environmental education in grades K–12 should be expanded to include understanding of toxicity, risk, and sustainability, it adds.

John Ulrich, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of California, says the trade association supports many, although not all, of the ideas catalogued in the report. The next phase of the state's effort on chemicals "will become more challenging as the abstract becomes concrete and broad generalizations give way to specifics," he says.

The report is available at dtsc.ca.gov/PollutionPrevention/GreenChemistryInitiative/index.cfm.

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