California presses on with its green chemisty initiative

A greener valley

27 May 2008 00:00  [Source: ICB]

California is attempting to redesign the chemical industry's current approach and policies - through green chemistry

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Doris de Guzman/New York

CALIFORNIA IS again blazing the trails on US chemical policy, and this time in a big way.

Early last year, California's Environmental Protection Agency, Cal/EPA, through its Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), launched an initiative dealing with toxic chemicals and pollution using green chemistry principles.

According to the DTSC, green chemistry is a preemptive strategy to reduce toxic substances by fundamentally changing the way things are designed and manufactured to contain few or zero hazardous chemicals.

"Here at Cal/EPA, we've mostly been involved in controlling emissions and waste discharges. It is time to rethink how we look at environmental issues from the design level," says DTSC director Maureen Gorsen.

"Global markets are also changing, and demand for green products is increasing. California has the opportunity to lead the nation in creating safer substitutes and at the same time ensure that California does not become the dumping ground for toxic products prohibited elsewhere," she adds.

To kick-start phase I of the California Green Chemistry Initiative, the DTSC launched the "Conversation with California" program last year, which mostly consisted of information gathering and dialogue to explore green chemistry ideas.

Participants came from across the board, including manufacturers, trade groups, environmental and community organizations, foreign governments, public health advocates and academic institutions.

"Phase I, held between April 2007 and January 2008, was the initial learning, exploration and education stage," says Gorsen. "We asked a lot of penetrating questions trying to figure out what we can do here. Phase II is trying to filter all of what we heard into a framework that might work for California."

Key elements in DTSC's phase I report, presented in January, include: collecting comprehensive chemical information disseminating information on toxic chemicals empowering consumers to make informed choices including chemical toxicity and green chemistry in state procurement policy training new scientists and engineers in green chemistry including green chemistry in elementary and high-school curricula forging international chemical partnerships strengthening consumer protection laws and expanding California's pollution prevention program.

"The biggest challenge in creating this initiative is that this has never been done before," says Gorsen. "Everything is on the table, including voluntary, regulatory and incentive-based measures, as well as competitions and grants - everything that can be a tool for policy making."

She adds: "For now, we are just exploring concepts and even what we produce for the Cal/EPA secretary will only be a recommended framework - more like a white paper than an actual physical proposal."

A draft for the phase II report is expected to be out in June. Proposed recommendations for a final policy are expected to be submitted by July 1.


While participating in the DTSC's various workshops and dialogues, industry trade groups across the US are on their toes waiting for the agency's initial policy recommendations.

"It is going to be interesting to see how this initiative plays out in terms of its impact within the state and nationally," says Michael Walls, managing director of regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

"In our view, based on the input the department received since it began this process last year, is that they are looking at a range of programs and incentives that focus on green chemistry and engineering. We're looking forward to the DTSC recommendations to the governor because that will really provide an opportunity for us to have a meaningful dialogue on how you ­implement some of these recommendations," he adds.

The ACC says it agrees with Cal/EPA's stated goals for its green chemistry initiative and adds that the industry has already practiced and embraced the green chemistry concept in its own fundamental practices.

"Green chemistry principles, however, were never intended to be applied as government mandates but as useful approaches to resource efficiency, pollution prevention and safety," says Walls.

Other trade associations such as the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) and the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) are also engaged in developing the initiative.

The CSPA says it was influential in helping shape the phase I report, noting that the DTSC refrained from recommending comprehensive product data development requirements, product premarket approval programs or registration of chemicals.

"There are a lot of things still up in the air on what the initiative or recommendations will be," says Andrew Hackman, CSPA's director of state affairs. "Regardless of what they are, there are definitely going to have some sort of impact in our industry, which is why we are so heavily involved in this."

One big concern about the Green Chemistry Initiative, according to the Thursday Group, a coalition of business interests that includes, among others, the ACC, CSPA and SDA, is that the result will be a command and control regulatory program that will instead impede innovation.

"It is vitally important that this program be developed in a manner consistent with risk-based evaluation. Sound science should be the platform upon which this regulatory structure operates, but this process must also give due consideration to the economic and societal needs of all Californians," the group said in a letter sent to the DTSC on April 30.


The DTSC, the ACC and the CSPA all note it is too early to make any economic impact assumption associated with the initiative, although the DTSC says the implementation of green chemistry principles could save California businesses millions of dollars by eliminating managing hazardous waste costs.

DTSC spent $131m (€84m) in the fiscal year 2006/07 to monitor, manage and clean up hazardous waste sites, as well as to prevent pollution, according to the report Green Chemistry: Cornerstone to a Sustainable California released by the University of California's Centers for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) in January.

The report, which was commissioned by Cal/EPA, also stated that chemical and pollution-related diseases among children and workers in California cost the state's insurers, businesses and families an estimated $2.6bn/year in direct and indirect costs.

"The report, for the first time, puts cost estimates on the consequences for Californians of current chemical and product management policies," COEH scientist and report coauthor Michael Wilson said during a web conference on May 8. "It is timely for California to reduce the use of toxic agents through innovative approaches available through green chemistry."

He adds: "New policies that prevent ­hazards rather than cleaning up problems after the fact will foster innovation and help green chemistry emerge as a central part of our economy."


1. Prevent waste rather than treat it or clean it up.

2. Incorporate all materials used in the manufacturing process in the final product.

3. Use synthetic methods that generate substances with little or no toxicity to people or the environment.

4. Design chemical products to be effective, but reduce toxicity.

5. Phase out solvents and auxiliary substances when possible.

6. Use energy-efficient processes, at ambient temperature and pressure, to reduce costs and environmental impacts.

7. Use renewable raw materials for feedstocks.

8. Reuse chemical intermediates and blocking agents to reduce or eliminate waste.

9. Select catalysts that carry out a single reaction many times instead of less efficient reagents.

10. Use chemicals that readily break down into innocuous substances in the environment.

11. Develop better analytical techniques for real-time monitoring to reduce hazardous substances.

12. Use chemicals with low risk for accidents, explosions, and fires.

Visit Doris de Guzman's Green Chemicals blog

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