California’s Green Chemistry Initiative at Age 10


In 2008, the California legislature enacted two groundbreaking laws collectively designed to protect Californians from toxic chemicals in
products, and to provide the public with more information about chemical hazards. Assembly Bill 1879 created the Safer Consumer Products
Program, requiring the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to evaluate chemicals of concern in products and their potential alternatives, and to reduce the hazards of chemicals in products. Senate Bill 509 established a Toxics Information Clearinghouse (TIC) for data on chemical hazards. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) was required to identify the hazard traits to be included in the TIC. A decade later, we critically review the progress made under these two laws, which collectively enacted the California Green Chemistry Initiative. This policy research project included three overlapping phases of work: (1) A literature review to identify best practices in chemical policy; (2) Interviews with experts in green chemistry science and policy to evaluate the Green Chemistry Initiative; and (3) Evaluation of the degree to which breast cancer-relevant chemicals have been addressed to date. Experts from business, nonprofit, academic, and government perspectives were interviewed to elicit strengths and challenges of the current laws and program. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using qualitative research methods, and the draft findings were reviewed by additional experts. Additional methods included a scoping review of the literature relevant to the program, and comparison of lists of breast cancer-relevant chemicals, to assess the degree to which these have been addressed or could be addressed through the existing program.

Ten ideal attributes of successful chemical policy emerged from the literature review and interviews:

Data—authority to obtain information on product ingredients, exposure, and chemical hazard                                                              Information Flow—balancing protection of confidential business information while promoting the public right to know
Prioritization—selecting important issues and avoiding less important ones
Efficiency—moving to a conclusion within a reasonable time period
Transparency—incorporating adequate opportunities for public input
Protection—focusing on protecting the most vulnerable, and preventing regrettable substitutions
Authority—ability to take needed action to protect health and the environment
Burden—requiring the business to ensure the safety of their chemicals or products
Market Guidance—sending clear signals to drive businesses toward safer chemicals
Incentives—promoting education, technical assistance, research and development.

The California Green Chemistry Initiative is unique and innovative. It has the potential to drive the market for safer chemicals and products because the California market is so significant globally. The California laws and program include many of the ideal attributes of a successful chemical policy, particularly in the areas of information flow, transparency, and adequate authority to achieve public health protection. The Safer Consumer Products Program (SCP), in particular, has the authority to place the burden to evaluate chemical alternatives on the business, and is designed to provide market guidance. However, some experts point out that the program has not fully utilized
these strengths. Other experts contend that numerous toxic chemicals have been quietly and voluntarily removed from a variety of products in response to the SCP, making it difficult to gauge the impact based solely on regulatory actions.

Three significant areas of weakness have impaired the ability of the California Green Chemistry Initiative to live up to its potential:

  1. The pace of implementation of the SCP has been slow, with relatively few chemical-product combinations identified for action so far.
  2. The SCP suffers from unclear authority to collect data on chemicals in products, and struggles with broader data gaps on exposure and toxicity, impairing its ability to identify priorities and take subsequent regulatory action.
  3. California’s overall efforts and investment have so far not been sufficient to foster robust research and development of safer product chemistry.