California plans tough product safety limits

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Senior Medical Producer

The state of California proposed new rules Monday that could force makers of consumer products to show they’re not using harmful plastics or other ingredients, or face restrictions including a possible ban on selling those products. If the rules go into effect, they could have a ripple effect beyond California, since many companies  are unlikely to develop separate product lines, just for that state.

Maziar Movassaghi, acting director of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, says the ambitious plan seeks to totally reshape the way new products are developed. “We’ve had 30 years relying on [federal law], and it’s had limited success,” Movassaghi said. “The idea here is to go up the pipeline to the desk of individuals designing products, asking them to design products safe for use, and safe for the environment.”

Under the proposed rule, the DTSC will develop a list of chemical ingredients and products that may pose a health or environmental concern. The DTSC could then require companies to submit more information, including data on safety or suitability for recycling. Movassaghi says companies won’t be forced to do additional testing, but can re-submit reports they’ve already prepared to meet regulations in Europe, Canada or Japan. One goal, he says, is to ensure that products in California don’t face less scrutiny than products sold elsewhere. “We don’t want to become the toxic dumping ground of unsafe products that manufacturers can’t sell in other parts of the world.”

The DTSC, depending on its eventual findings, could take a wide range of actions, from an outright ban on a product, to requiring companies to explore alternative ingredients, to requiring those companies to take back products for recycling.

There will be 21-day period for members of the public, including industry groups, to comment on the rules. The California Chamber of Commerce had no comment on Monday’s proposal, but in early June the business coalition pointed to several elements that might be “problematic.” The chamber urged the DTSC to offer flexibility to companies in meeting requirements, to avoid imposing major costs and to focus on products posing a major risk. “If DTSC fails to implement a science-based approach to screening out products with low likelihood of harm, the program will surely collapse under its own weight,” the chamber said in a statement.

A final version of the regulations is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2011.



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