Modernizing the Green Chemistry Initiative Safer Consumer Products

From the outset of the Safer Consumer Products (SCP), environmental justice and worker health and safety advocates were concerned that the program could not, by design move fast enough upstream. CHANGE  believes that California can and should begin a process of Detoxification, Decarbonization and Democratization. The SCP could help transform toxic industries in California with a strong reform and an intentional shift to an Environmental Justice/just transition framework.

Our participation in the Green Chemistry Initiative and the implementation of the SCP is a reflection of our commitment to promoting upstream solutions that center on protecting health and preventing exposures.  The Green Chemistry Initiative held promise to environmental justice advocates. We agree with the recommendation in the recent report “California’s Green Chemistry Initiative at Age 10: An Evaluation of Its Progress and Promise[1] that there are three main impediments to improving how we manage chemicals: a safety, innovation, and information gap. Ten years later, environmental justice advocates are still facing the same gaps.  These gaps are a barrier to our efforts of promoting safer alternatives that could also create green jobs and safer industries. We need a robust and justice based green chemistry program that can be a tool for transforming the toxic industries that are over concentrated in low income communities. When industries such as; auto body shops, nail salons, garment cleaning, furniture and clothing manufacturing, are detoxified then our communities and economy can thrive in cleaner and healthier places to work, play, and live.

BILL SB 392 will address several key impediments that are slowing the program’s progress, as identified in the report by ensuring that the SCP has adequate information to prioritize product-chemical combinations for regulation. This bill will provide a unique opportunity for the SCP to move faster upstream. Unfortunately, the SCP lacks a coherent long term strategy to adequately solve the scale of the problem of toxics in our products, communities and bodies.

The Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) must also link the goals of green chemistry to fill the data, safety, and innovation gap. We would like to see green chemistry innovation in the areas of pollution prevention, enforcement, permitting, and clean up. Additionally, the SCP must be seen in the context of DTSC’s overall failure to address legacy of soil, air, and water contamination from industrial and manufacturing operations that are often located near low income communities of color (e.g. landfills, recycling centers, incinerators, and chemical production). Despite the potential of SCP, many workers and communities continue to be exposed toxic chemicals. Thus, funding for the SCP must not come at the expense of other programs.

We look forward to this reform that also leads to renewed interest and commitment to finding ways to filling the data, and safety gap. We recommend linking the SCP and GCP program to other DTSC programs such as pollution prevention, permitting and clean up so that the solutions of the future are linked to solving the sins of the past.

S.B. 392 has been referred for hearings in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee. The first hearing will be held on or after March 23, 2019. Given the magnitude of the legislation, the earliest it would likely make it to the Governor’s desk is August or September

[1] G. Solomon, Reynolds P., Hoang A., California’s Green Chemistry Initiative at Age 10: An Evaluation of Its Progress and Promise.  Public Health Institute, October 2018.