Last year, California became the first state to adopt "green chemistry" laws by enacting two statutes. The first, Senate Bill 509, creates a "Toxics Information Clearinghouse." The second, Assembly Bill 1879, requires a broad-based evaluation of risks and impacts associated with "chemicals of concern" in consumer products, including consideration of safer, more "green" alternatives. These statutes were adopted as part of the "Green Chemistry Initiative" proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in August 2008, and in recognition of shortcomings in ad hoc efforts by the California legislature over the last several years to address risks associated with specific products, such as lead in jewelry and phthalates in plastic products

In a further step in that process, California Environmental Protection Agency's Department of Toxic Substances Control ("DTSC") last month issued its "Green Chemistry Policy Framework ." The Green Chemistry Policy Framework identifies recommended actions in transitioning to a "green chemistry" approach to chemical regulation. According to DTSC, these actions will accomplish a transition from a "20th Century focus on pollution prevention." The new approach will include pollution prevention but will also focus on "lifecycle assessment" of impacts from chemical use (ranging from energy and resource impacts in producing them, to impacts on worker and consumer health and safety and costs associated with disposal and end-of-life management) and the availability of safer, "greener" alternatives.

The recommended actions in the Green Chemistry Policy Framework include fostering research and development in green chemistry and facilitating technology transfers, as well as creating resources such as an online product ingredient network that will allow consumers to evaluate how "green" a product actually is. The recommended actions also include creating a toxics information clearinghouse and "accelerating the quest for safer products," goals that Senate Bill 509 and Assembly Bill 1879 are intended to accomplish. The other recommended actions are anticipated to prompt new legislative proposals in the coming year.

The toxics information clearinghouse to be created, based on Senate Bill 509, is to be in place in two years, by January 1, 2011. Senate Bill 509 (codified along with Assembly Bill 1879 at California Health & Safety Code § 25251 et seq .) requires DTSC to create a "decentralized, Web-based system for the collection, maintenance, and distribution of specific chemical hazard trait and environmental and toxicological end-point data." Health & Safety Code § 25256. The task of determining what information should be included in the clearinghouse will be the responsibility of DTSC's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment ("OEHHA"). OEHHA is familiar to many in the regulated community because it is responsible for the listing of chemicals that require warnings under California's "Proposition 65."

Assembly Bill 1879 requires DTSC to adopt regulations to identify and evaluate "chemicals of concern" in consumer products and potential "greener" alternatives. The regulations are to be in place in two years, by January 1, 2011. Health & Safety Code §§ 25252(a) and 25253(a).

Under the regulations, a wide range of factors related to a chemical of concern are to be evaluated. The factors include: product function and its useful life; impacts on water resources; impacts on environmental media; energy impacts and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the chemical; worker safety and public health concerns (including potential impacts on sensitive subpopulations, such as infants and children); and end of life disposal of the product. Health & Safety Code § 25253(a). They also include the existence of "feasible safer alternatives." Id.

The regulations are intended to give DTSC the authority to bar or restrict use of the chemical in consumer products. Health & Safety Code § 25253(b). DTSC may be authorized to take other steps, such as requiring labeling and requiring the manufacturer to manage "end of useful life" disposal. Id. Where no feasible safer alternative exists, DTSC would also have the option -- as a condition of allowing use of the chemical -- of requiring funding of research to develop greener alternatives to the chemical. Id. This ties into one of the objectives identified in the Green Chemistry Policy Framework of fostering "green chemistry" research and development through the use of research grants.

Formal adoption of regulations based on Assembly Bill 1879 is not likely to occur any earlier than mid-2010, and might be delayed by California's ongoing budget problems. As it begins the process of drafting regulations, DTSC has created a "wiki" (defined in Wikipedia as a "type of website that allows users to add, remove, or otherwise edit and change most content very quickly and easily") to solicit input from interested parties on the content of the proposed regulations that contains an outline of issues to be addressed in the regulations.