It is widely acknowledged that due to a lack of strong federal policy, the health and environmental effects of the vast majority of approximately 80,000 industrial chemicals in commercial use in the United States are largely unknown. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that 85% of new chemical notices submitted by companies lack data on health effects, and 67% lack health or environmental data of any kind. The EPA also estimates that the United States will require 217,000 new hazardous waste sites by 2033, a 180% increase over today’s 77,000 existing sites. The majority of California’s largest hazardous waste sites are leaking: the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) estimates that 61 out of 85 sites are leaking into groundwater. Of the 51 sites inspected for groundwater intrusion, 94 percent were found to present a major threat to human health or the environment.
According to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley: “California is positioned to become a national leader in new policies that promote the science, technology, and commercial applications of green chemistry: the design and use of chemicals, processes, and products that are safer for human health and the environment. In essence, green chemistry seeks to ‘design out’ the health and environmental hazards posed by chemicals and chemical processes. This approach differs markedly from current chemical management practices, which focus on reducing, rather than preventing chemical exposures and environmental contamination (http://coeh.berkeley.edu/docs/news/green_chem_brief.pdf).”
Example of actions to protect the public from toxics and chemicals: In 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the chemical reform bills AB 1879 (Feuer and Huffman) and SB 509 (Simitian), the first-in-the-nation “green chemistry” legislation. AB 1879 requires the California Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC) to adopt regulations to identify the chemicals of the greatest concern in consumer products, evaluate their hazard traits and alternatives, and establish regulatory measures, including restricting or banning the use of dangerous chemicals. SB 509 requires DTSC to establish a Web-based Toxics Information Clearinghouse as a publicly available repository of information on the hazard traits of chemicals. Data will be collected from chemical manufacturers as well as other states and countries that have developed essential data. Together, the bills put California on the path toward a comprehensive green chemistry program to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals in products and the environment.
Example of action that fails to protect the public from toxics and chemicals:AB 1879 and SB 509 left most of the details of implementing a Green Chemistry program to the rulemaking process at DTSC, and early indications are not promising. The current proposal would leave it to chemical manufacturers and users to analyze the chemicals they use and determine their safety. Due to lack of funding, DTSC’s role will be minimal while the fox continues to guard the henhouse. Some advocates suggest an appropriate fee on the users of chemicals in products sold in California would adequately fund DTSC and allow them to act in the public’s interest.