On September 10, 2010, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) submitted its Green Chemistry Proposed Regulation for Safer Consumer Products to the state’s Office of Administrative Law, triggering a 45-day public comment period and formal rulemaking process.
These regulations flesh out a process for identifying and prioritizing chemicals in consumer products that may be subject to additional restrictions. They also provide a roadmap for conducting an alternatives analysis that will help determine permissible uses of those chemicals in products already on the market or in development.
The process consists of three parts: prioritization, alternatives assessments, and regulatory response. For products already on the market, the process will require examining whether safer alternatives exist and potentially reformulating the product or having it banned entirely.
For new products, the regulations require manufacturers to look at potential impacts and address them before the product is brought to market (Hsaio et al 2010). These are significant developments because, in the U.S. alone, there are more than 81,000 chemical compounds registered for use. However, due to a grandfather clause, 62,000 of those chemicals were never required to undergo testing as part of the federal Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).
Under the TSCA, the U.S. EPA has required testing on fewer than 200 chemicals, and it has banned no more than five chemicals. According to the California Policy Research Center, about 2,000 potentially hazardous chemicals are introduced into commercial use each year.
Furthermore, global chemical production is expected to double by 2024 (Wilson et al 2006, Wilson and Schwarzman 2009). The federal government is currently evaluating the feasibility of the Safer Chemicals Act of 2010 and considering ways to incorporate green chemistry into the TSCA.
This would call for green chemistry and engineering during all phases of a chemical’s life cycle, from design to manufacture to use to disposal. It would also rely on principles of chemistry, engineering, environmental science, and toxicology to reduce and eliminate adverse health and environmental impacts (Matus et al 2010).
For more information about green chemistry and engineering, please see Cal/EPA 2008, Wilson and Schwarzman 2009, Matus et al 2010, Wilson et al 2006.
The U.S. government also relies on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which has jurisdiction over more than 15,000 types of consumer products, to protect consumers from faulty products—particularly those that can injure children.
While the mission of the CPSC does not explicitly target green products, it does take very seriously its responsibility to mitigate health threats from industrial chemicals used in children’s products.
The CPSC assumed extra duties with the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). Once fully implemented, this landmark legislation will ensure that children’s products will be tested for safety prior to sale and free of known chemical or design hazards.
Title 1 of the CPSIA requires that a children’s product manufacturer have its products tested by an accredited third party. It also calls for the CPSC to appoint a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel to study the health effects of all phthalates and phthalate alternatives used in children’s toys and products (Congressional Research Service 2008, Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health 2009).
Childcare products and toys containing the phthalates Bis-2-diethyl hexyl phthalate, Dibutyl-n-butyl phthalate and Butyl benzene phthalate (DEHP, DBP and BBP) in concentrations higher than 0.1 percent per phthalate were banned.
Additional phthalates, Di-isononyl phthalate, Di-n-octyl phthalate, and Di-isodecyl phthalate (DINO, DNOP and DIDP), were banned in any children’s product that can be placed in a child’s mouth or in any childcare products that contain concentrations higher than 0.1 percent per phthalate (February 2009).
Unfortunately, the CPSIA does not address other chemicals found in children’s products, such as bisphenol A, formaldehyde, or VOCs. It also fails to address heavy metals, such as mercury or arsenic.
The good news is that the CPSIA requires the CSPC to establish and maintain a consumer safety database that is publicly available, searchable, and accessible through the CSPC website (Congressional Research Service 2008, Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health 2009).
For more information on this and other legislation addressing chemicals in children’s products, please see the AQS white paper, Chemicals in COMMON Products: Risky Business for Children’s Health.