California's Chemical Reaction
We know there are hazards hidden in products people buy every day. We just can't often tell which ones are in what items. Yet that's information we all have a right to know, and thanks to California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations, we'll soon be filling in a lot of those blanks.
The new rules are part of an old law, California's Green Chemistry Initiative, which was passed in 2008 to jumpstart the development of safer alternatives for certain hazardous ingredients used in goods sold in the state. In order to encourage manufacturers to get with the program, the law requires the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) to identify the most worrisome ingredients in the products Californians are using and spur the responsible parties to do something about them.
At the middle of it all are the official Chemicals of Concern (COC), a list of roughly 3,000 substances that existing research tells us people have a right to be alarmed about. Using this touchstone, the DTSC will develop a further list of Priority Products that contain these ingredients and are thought to be especially disagreeable from a health or environmental perspective. Manufacturers of Priority Products would have to explore alternatives for the COCs they contain. If they can't find any safe alternatives or if the available options aren't much better, the DTSC can bring the regulatory hammer down.
The rules are scheduled for finalization this year. When that happens, anyone who appreciates the finer things in life, like, say, a clean and safe environment, will stand up and cheer this landmark moment in the fight to clean up consumer products.
And it's not just Californians who'll be clapping. We'll likely all benefit from the rules no matter where we live because manufacturers usually rise to the challenge of dueling state standards by redesigning their products to meet the strongest around and then selling the new and improved product to the rest of us, too. That's almost always easier than making different versions for different markets. Of course, companies can "opt out" of the new rule by pulling their products off California shelves, but that would mean withdrawing from eighth largest economy in the world, and what company would commit that kind of sales-figure suicide?
I haven't even mentioned the best part: The DTSC must post the list of Priority Products on its website, which means we'll all be able to see what's inside the stuff we've been buying and can make smarter choices no matter what state we're shopping in.
I also strongly suspect that appearing on the list will stitch a scarlet letter on offending products large enough to be seen from space. That kind of PR usually lights a big fire in the executive suite and suddenly everyone is working weekends to neutralize the problem before the next quarterly report.
And that's the real power of laws like this. It's not that secrets get revealed. It's that as soon as they do, those who kept them get real serious real fast about making the changes that should have been made from the start, and finding alternatives that would have kept them, and us, away from trouble in the first place.