“Is it necessary to use this toxic chemical?” That’s the question that makers of paint strippers and spray polyurethane foam may soon have to answer in California.
The state's Department of Toxic Substances Control has announced a first-ever draft of "Priority Products," targeting three consumer goods that each contain at least one toxic chemical with the potential to significantly harm people or the environment.
The three targeted chemicals were selected from an original list of 1,100.
The products, announced Thursday (March 13), include paint strippers containing methylene chloride and spray polyurethane foam systems containing unreacted ("uncured") diisocyanates.
Photos and video courtesy of DTSC
Spray polyurethane foams and paint strippers that contain certain chemicals are on a new draft "Priority Products" list in California, where manufacturers will be asked to consider alternatives for toxic chemicals used in their products.
Methylene chloride is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin that has been linked to multiple deaths; diisocyanates can irritate the respiratory tract, cause asthma and cancer, and are known skin irritants.
(The third Priority Product is children's foam padded sleeping products containing the flame retardant TDCPP.)
'Not a Ban,' But 'Significant'
Making the list doesn't equate to being taken off the market, but it does represent the first set of product-chemical combinations DTSC will consider regulating under the Safer Consumer Products regulations.
"This is not a ban. We are starting a conversation with manufacturers," said DTSC Director Debbie Raphael.
According to Raphael, the agency is "signaling to manufacturers to examine their products and find safer alternative ingredients whenever any of the more than 1,100 chemicals identified by this program are used."
"The impact of this initiative will be significant," Raphael said.
From start to finish, it could take up to two years for DTSC to finalize its initial Priority Products list. The list isn't official until the rule-making process is complete. That process won't begin until later this year and could take up to a year to complete.
In the meantime, the department is planning a series of public workshops with stakeholders, tentatively scheduled for May 7 in Sacramento, May 28 in Oakland, and a date TBD in Los Angeles.
Once the list is finalized, manufacturers will have to notify the state if they make a product containing one of the named chemicals, followed by conducting an "Alternatives Analysis" to determine if safer ingredients are available and feasible.
DTSC released this video explaining the Priority Products list and Safer Consumer Products regulations.
DTSC will then use the findings to determine if there should be a regulatory response. Regulators expect to analyze and make rulings on three to five products per year.
5 Years in the Making
DTSC's Safer Consumer Products regulations took effect Oct. 31, 2013—five years after then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California's green chemistry legislation, AB 1879. The measure authorized the agency to create a process for identifying and prioritizing chemicals of concern and to create methods for analyzing alternatives.
According to DTSC, the regulations "provide an opportunity for innovative industries to capitalize on the growing consumer demand for products that are safer and better for the environment."
The American Coatings Association has submitted comments on each iteration of these regulations since 2008. The coating makers' group previously said it was "apprehensive that one chemical of concern in one product of concern could impact thousands of coatings formulations."
ACA has not issued a statement on the draft Priority Products list and did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday (March 17).
'Sound Business Practice'
California's environmental watchdog contends that companies already understand that looking for product alternatives to reduce consumer risk "is a sound business practice," and that the product and chemical lists are a first-of-their-kind step in the right direction.
"People want safer consumer products, and this innovative program establishes a process by which government and businesses can work together to meet this public demand," said Matt Rodriquez, secretary of the state's Environmental Protection Agency.
"The eyes of the world will be watching us as we progress in this new, collective effort to protect public health and preserve our environment," Rodriquez said.
Federal, State Alerts
Last June, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a new National Emphasis Program targeting isocyanates.
OSHA has had methylene chloride standards in place since 1997 and has linked more than 50 worker deaths to the chemical since the mid-1980s, primarily from its use in poorly ventilated spaces.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about its use in February 2012, after linking at least 13 deaths in a two-year period to excessive exposure.
"This is not a ban. We are starting a conversation with manufacturers," said DTSC Director Debbie Raphael. She added, however, that the impact of the initiative would be "significant."
Christine Baker, Director of California's Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, called the regulations a "smart strategy to prevent on-the-job illnesses and injuries."
Cal/OSHA issued a Fatality Alert about methylene chloride in March 2012, after a painter died in a tank while using a paint stripper that contained at least 60 percent methylene chloride.
"This approach will also protect California workers, who can be exposed to high levels of hazardous chemicals in paint stripping and insulating products, especially when the products are used in confined spaces," Baker said.
'Duplicating' Efforts, Adding Cost
The American Chemistry Council expressed concerns about the Priority Products list.
"We share the goal of chemical safety but are disappointed that today's announcement included products that are already being actively evaluated by the [EPA]," the group said in a statement.
"Rather than duplicating ongoing federal safety assessments, we urge DTSC to incorporate science-based information from existing sources, including EPA and other authoritative bodies, in order to avoid conflict, gain synergies, minimize costs and maximize benefits."
The Consumer Specialty Products Assocation also responded to the draft list. The group said that its member companies already regularly assessed alternative ingredients and formulations and that the regulatory process would add "significant additional costs."