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Green Chemistry Report Paves Way for Safer Standards in Marketplace and Policy

(Beyond Pesticides, November 30, 2009) In an effort to provide a new resource to support efforts to advance safer products in the market place, a collaboration of business, government, nongovernmental organizations, and academic groups have released a new report: “Growing the Green Economy through Green Chemistry and Design for Environment.” The report is designed to be a resource guide to assist states to develop a green chemistry and design for environment framework. It seeks to reduce the use of hazardous substances, finding safer alternatives which will in turn promote environmentally sustainable business practices and economic opportunities.

In a policy context, Beyond Pesticides believes that this type of green chemistry framework can identify safer products and should trigger the cancellation of more hazardous products evaluated under risk assessment standards that allow continuing public and environmental exposure despite the identification of hazards and uncertainties associated with chemical mixtures, synergistic effects, and untested health outcomes and ecological effects. Central to this thinking is the need to use information on green chemistry to evaluate the necessity of hazardous products and institute a mechanism to screen out unnecessary hazardous chemical use. At this time, public policy at the federal regulatory level largely ignores the “benefit” side of the equation, which is largely left consumers in the marketplace. Current reform proposals being considerd by Congress currently do not incorporate this thinking.

The report was released on November 17 by the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3), National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR), and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell (UMASS Lowell).

“Green chemistry offers states economic opportunity that focuses on safer chemicals and products,” said Ken Zarker, NPPR Policy Chair. “We expect this report will be a useful resource to those states considering opportunities for growing green jobs.”

Green chemistry was defined by Drs. Paul Anastas and John Warner as “the utilization of a set of principles that reduces or eliminates the use orgeneration of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and application of chemicals products.”

The report recommends states take action to promote safer products in four broad areas: 1) information development, collection and dissemination, 2) economic incentives; 3) recognition programs, and 4) regulation and policy, including the following:

* Promote chemical information and alternatives assessment.
* Provide tax incentives for green chemistry and design for
* Implement award programs for green chemistry and design for
* Require safer alternatives planning.

“This report will promote new collaborations and business leadership to assist industry with the tools to spur cleaner products and services,” says Roger McFadden, Senior Scientist, Staples, Inc. “The successful completion of all these actions is needed to help drive innovation throughout the supply chain to promote sustainability.”

In the U.S., green chemistry programs already exist at the federal level and at the state level in both Michigan and California. Design for environment (DfE) is the program within the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that “uses the office’s chemical assessment tools and expertise to inform substitution to safer chemistries.” This report defines a vision and an approach to use creative green chemistry and DfE policy approaches as key economic tools.

California instituted a Green Chemistry program after a report by a University of California (UC) research team urged the state to restrict toxic chemical use and replace it with safer substitutes, citing that federal law is too weak to protect the public from toxic chemicals that can build up in the human body and the environment. This report was the first in the nation to lay out a framework for government to implement the green chemistry approach toward designing and using chemicals that are less hazardous to people and ecosystems.

Despite the limitations of current risk assessment “reform” proposals being discussed in Congress, there is a growing movement for safety from highly toxic chemicals based on the common sense principle of precaution. In registering pesticides, for example, the Precautionary Principle would flip the burden of proof to the chemical industry to prove “allowable risk standards” are met, address uncertainties, establish the need, and show that a safer method or product was not available before the product is allowed on the market. Polls show that many Americans think such an approach is already in use in the U.S. Of course, it is not. Under the current regulatory system, by the time undeniable scientific proof of harm is established – the damage is often too severe to correct. By using the Precautionary Principle, advocates seek to prevent chemical exposure and utilize known non-harmful, or least-toxic alternative techniques and products.

For more information on the precautionary principle, read our article “Replacing Poisons with Precaution in Pest Management” from Pesticides and You (Vol 27 No. 3).

Source: NPPR Press Release


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