California’s Green Chemistry Initiative Leading the Way: What it means for labs and states across the country

72 billion pounds of chemicals are produced in or imported int the United States every day. New chemicals are being invented at the rate of 1000 per year, adding to the list of 82,000 chemicals currently in existence.

Having worked around toxics for years, all the while compiling Material Safety Data Sheets, I can see how regulating all of these new chemicals is a problem. Most of these chemicals have a serious lack of health and safety information associated with them. Whether this is because not enough is known about a chemical or it is simply not provided to the end-user, someone is not doing their due diligence in this case of life and death for researchers and the environment/community around them.

In honor of my internship at Way Out West News this summer, I’d like to write about the San Francisco Bay Area more. Today I will discuss California’s Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI).

Th six policy recommendations of the GCI are as follows:
• EXPAND POLLUTION PREVENTION and product stewardship programs.
• DEVELOP GREEN CHEMISTRY WORKFORCE EDUCATION AND TRAINING through new and existing educational programs and partnerships.
• CREATE AN ONLINE PRODUCT INGREDIENT NETWORK to disclose chemical ingredients for products sold in California, while protecting trade secrets.
• CREATE AN ONLINE TOXICS CLEARINGHOUSE, an online database of chemical toxicity and hazards populated with the guidance of a Green Ribbon Science Panel to help prioritize chemicals of concern and data needs.
• ACCELERATE THE QUEST FOR SAFER PRODUCTS, creating a systematic, science-based process to evaluate chemicals of concern and alternatives to ensure product safety and reduce or eliminate the need for chemical-by-chemical bans.
• MOVE TOWARD A CRADLE-TO-CRADLE ECONOMY, establishing a California Green Products Registry to develop green metrics and tools (e.g., environmental footprint calculators, sustainability indexes) for a range of consumer products and encourage their use by businesses.

In honor of my new temporary home in Berkeley, I must cite the leadership and cooperation with the state by the University of California-Berkeley:

The UC Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry is transforming the way chemicals are formulated, produced and used in manufacturing products. The center is expanding the curriculum for chemistry students, providing information to public policy-makers, and developing chemicals that are safer for human health and the environment.

California is implementing the first body of green chemistry law in the world and California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control is the agency charged with its implementation.

“Study after study have shown that many consumer products are not safe, resulting with more and more being recalled,” said DTSC Acting Director Maziar Movassaghi in a 2010 DTSC press release.

Movassaghi touts the 2010 report from Environment California “Green Chemistry at Work” which recognizes 11 California companies that are already leading the green chemistry revolution as a part of their existing business model.

The 2010 report from the President’s Cancer Panel prioitizing the green chemistry approach states that “safer alternatives for many currently used chemicals [are] urgently needed.”

Some of the most dangerous chemicals known to us were mentioned by the Panel, including dioxins, Bis-Phenol-A (BPA), and Lead.

The problem with the old legislative processes of addressing individual chemicals as culprits can not work in an environment where we have so many new chemicals and unknown exposure risks. There needs to be a blanket regulation on all chemicals that have potential hazardous risks.

Metrics for pollutants need to be available for all of this to work. If you can’t measure environmental and biological sample for toxics, there would be no basis for etiology OR legislation.

PCBs and DDT were both outlawed about thirty years ago. Infants born today, however, still have these manmade chemicals in their umbilical cord blood.

Imagine what will be in their blood in another thirty years. Imagine what is in it today.

Cal’s competition in Silicon Valley is also joining in on GCI. IBM and Stanford scientists are pioneering the application of organocatalysis to green polymer chemistry. A fundamental shift in the field, this discovery and new approach using organic catalysts could lead to well-defined, biodegradable molecules made from renewable resources in a much “greener” way.

Cal-Berkeley is addressing these problems by requiring all chemistry majors to take a green chemistry course. A new graduate course is also available.

Nobody know what horrors that new toxic chemicals will bring to tomorrow’s world. Does that mean we should ignore it. Listen to the science, people. And to the scientists: be a little more contientious of the environment, if you are not, who will be?

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About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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