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New Toxic Chemical Rules Come Under Fire

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The final regulations will be released in January. But the rules are coming under fire from industries that say they will generate unpredictable costs and harm the state's economy.
Most of us rarely give a second thought to the safety of chemicals contained in the products we buy.
Mostly, we presume they're safe or they wouldn't be on the shelf.

"Clearly, that would be a very logical assumption that someone is out there protecting us, somebody is making sure the chemicals that would harm our bodies or our environment wouldn't be in common products," says Debbie Raphael, Director of California's Department of Toxic Substances Control.

She says the federal law regulating chemicals is almost 40 years old, and even when it was passed, most existing chemicals were exempted.

As a result, about 83,000 chemicals are not routinely tested for safety.

Raphael says California's new law affects every consumer product that may have any of more than 12-hundred "chemicals of concern."

"These are chemicals widely understood throughout the world to cause problems like cancer, like reproductive harm, polluting our waters, polluting our air, those kinds of chemicals becomes our list of chemicals of concern," says Raphael.

The prospect of regulating so many chemicals is daunting, so the department will target five chemicals in five products to begin with.

The list could include could formaldehyde in carpet, cadmium in jewelry, ammonia in cleaning products; the department hasn't decided.

"Basically the department is in a position to choose any product that it wants, at any time, and in the first year, two years, three years, five years, ten years down the road," says Gene Livingston, an attorney for the Green Chemistry Alliance.

It's a coalition that represents automobile, toy, plastics, paint, and detergent manufacturers among others.

He says the new law may sound reasonable…but its results are totally unpredictable.

"And that's how business is looking at this…what's going to happen in the future," says Livingston.

"The way they've organized the regulation could cause very serious economic impacts," says Loren Kaye is with the California Chamber of Commerce. "Initially it's going to affect manufacturers, but then manufacturers make products that get incorporated into further products, and then eventually it gets into distribution and retail, so it affects the whole stream of commerce."

Ultimately, he says the new chemical regulations will force consumers to pay more for products, or make some products unavailable.

Environmentalists disagree. 

"The Cal Chamber in this case doesn't have any interest in protecting public health, " says Kathryn Phillips with the Sierra Club of California. "They have interest in satisfying manufacturers from outside the state who don't want to see this rule adopted in California because they know this is going to be a landmark."

Phillips says she thinks the regulations could have gone even further to include more chemicals that degrade water quality.

But she says the pending regulations are designed to protect consumers.

 "It won't reduce the availability of household cleaners for instance it will just make sure that household cleaners are safer, children aren't exposed to toxic chemicals, mothers aren't exposed to toxic chemicals," says Phillips.

Manufacturers contend product reformulation can cost millions of dollars and they say alternatives to some chemicals can be more expensive or less effective.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control says it has accounted for contingencies. 

"If the alternative is way more expensive or if it doesn't meet a performance standard or even if it smells bad and consumers wouldn't ever want to buy your product, well that isn't a viable alternative," says Raphael.

In such cases, the company could keep the chemical, or restrict the amount that's used, or notify consumers.
But Raphael says the list of regulated chemicals should be no surprise to manufacturers.
Some have already been banned or limited in the European Union.
She says it's time the U-S becomes just as protective of the public health.
The final draft regulations are due out in January.
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