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New Report Supports California’s Green Chemistry Initiative

(Beyond Pesticides, February 4, 2008) Following on the recommendation of a California Legislature-supported report in 2006, a new report (January 17, 2008) prepared by the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA, reinforces the earlier call for a statewide initiative to adopt comprehensive efforts to eliminate hazardous chemical use and reduce billions of dollars of associated costs from pollution and chemical-related diseases. The report, Green Chemistry: Cornerstone to a Sustainable California, calls on California to lead the nation in implementing a comprehensive approach to the management of chemicals and products.Policy recommendations include: (i) Passing new laws to remedy the insufficient data available on the toxicity of chemicals so California businesses, regulators and consumers can make informed choices about the products they use; (ii) Providing California agencies with a new legal framework to enable them to act when there are reasonable concerns about a product’s safety, even when complete hazard or tracking data are unavailable; and (iv) Investing in the design of chemicals, materials and manufacturing processes that are inherently safer for humans.Some of these recommendations echo the 2006 UC report to the California Legislature on green chemistry policy, which contributed to the introduction of new state legislation in 2007 to require improved reporting on the sale of high quantity chemicals and reductions in some uses of the most toxic chemicals. That legislation is expected to be reintroduced in 2008.

According to the report, serious gaps in existing laws regulating the production and use of hazardous chemicals fail to protect public health and the environment. As a result of this inadequate oversight, chemical and pollution-related diseases among children and workers in California cost the state’s insurers, businesses and families an estimated $2.6 billion in direct and indirect costs, says the report, which includes a set of recommended policy reforms for the state.

In 2004, more than 200,000 California workers were diagnosed with deadly, chronic diseases – such as cancer or emphysema – attributable to chemical exposures in the workplace, according to the report. Another 4,400 died as a result of those diseases. The new findings, based upon well-established methodology for analyzing economic impact, indicate that those diseases resulted in $1.4 billion in both direct medical costs and indirect costs that include lost wages and benefits.

An additional $1.2 billion in direct and indirect costs is attributed to 240,000 cases of preventable childhood diseases in California related to environmental exposure to chemical substances, the report says.

The California Environmental Protection Agency commissioned the UC Berkeley and UCLA Centers for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) to prepare the report. COEH is a multi-disciplinary research program based at the UC campuses of Berkeley, Davis and San Francisco in Northern California, and at UC Irvine and UCLA in Southern California. Additional funding for the report came from the UC Office of the President, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This report, for the first time, puts cost estimates on the consequences for Californians of current chemical and product management policies,” said Dr. John Balmes, COEH director, UC Berkeley professor of environmental health sciences and UCSF professor of medicine. “California has shown that creating new jobs and investment opportunities can go hand in hand with protecting human health and the environment. We have been doing this with vehicle emissions and energy use, and this new report makes it obvious that we will need to do the same with chemicals and products.”

In May, 2007, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, which supported the report, announced The Cal/EPA Green Chemistry Initiative, as a collaborative approach for identifying options to significantly reduce the impacts of toxic chemicals on public health and the environment. The agency defines the Initiative as providing recommendations for developing a consistent means for evaluating risk, reducing exposure, encouraging less-toxic industrial processes, and identifying safer, non-chemical alternatives.

In a memo to her directors initiating the Green Chemistry Initiative, Secretary Adams wrote: “In the absence of a unifying approach, interest groups and policy makers have been attempting to take these issues on one-by-one. Product by product, chemical by chemical, and now even city by city approaches can often have unintended, even regrettable consequences, even with the best of intentions. I believe we need to develop a coordinated, comprehensive strategy….”

The report is authored by Michael Wilson and Dr. Megan Schwarzman, both COEH research scientists at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health; Timothy Malloy, professor at the UCLA School of Law; Elinor Fanning, COEH assistant director of research at UCLA; and Peter Sinsheimer, a COEH affiliate and director of the Pollution Prevention Education & Research Center at Occidental College.

See UC Berkeley press release.

See CAL EPA press release.

See report.


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