Risk Policy Report  [Printer-friendly version]
November 29, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: The U.S. chemical industry is afraid -- very
afraid -- that Europe's embrace of a precautionary chemicals policy
(REACH) will create enormous pressure to adopt inherently safer
"green chemistry" principles and practices.]

Anticipating a long-overdue California academician's report on the
pursuit of "green chemistry" practices and acknowledging the likely
acceptance of a sweeping European plan, the chemical industry is
mobilizing lobbying efforts to dissuade state lawmakers from
restricting their production practices. Legislative crackdowns sparked
by these developments would cost California jobs and businesses and
pose implementation problems, industry sources said.

Green chemistry is the development of alternative strategies for
chemical production without relying on or creating chemical hazards. A
study soon slated for release by lead author Michael Wilson, an
industrial hygienist at the University of California, Berkeley, may
suggest that green chemistry practices represent the best system for
dealing with deficiencies in California's current chemical
regulations, industry sources speculated.

Wilson recently spoke at an industry meeting, and is expected Dec. 14
to give an update on his study at a California Manufacturers &
Technology Association conference in San Diego. The study is slated
for release to the state Legislature soon, likely early next year, and
is expected by industry sources to result in substantial new chemical
policy legislation.

Wilson would not comment but in 2004, he praised practices such as
those favored in the European Union's (EU) Registration, Evaluation &
Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) legislation.

REACH is a collection of regulations being advanced in the EU to
restrict the use of some chemicals. Chemical manufacturers would be
required to register their products in a central EU database; EU also
will place restrictions on the use of certain high-priority chemicals
such as carcinogens. EU's parliament approved REACH on Nov. 18,
although several key issues need to be resolved, according to news

REACH is seen as promoting green chemistry because it advocates the
substitution of chemicals the EU deems more harmful for chemicals
considered less harmful. Several EU countries already offer green
chemistry subsidies to companies.

The concept of green chemistry was invented in the United States;
American chemical manufacturers, regulators and environmentalists are
expected to watch as the EU implements these new REACH restrictions.

"U.S. states -- starting with California -- are looking into enacting
their own versions of this law," states a recently released
Competitive Enterprise Institute-funded report on REACH

Industry sources are especially wary of green chemistry measures that
might be pursued by the Legislature and worry that regulations arising
from the legislation might be cumbersome and unwieldy. "We've got to
be really careful that we don't put the policy ahead of the science,"
an industry source said. Doing so can result in harmful environmental
consequences, the source said, citing California's failure to properly
assess the impacts of the gasoline oxygenate additive methyl tertiary
butyl ether (MTBE) on groundwater supplies.

MTBE was considered "green chemistry" when it came out, the industry
source says.

If green chemistry were to be pushed in California, the actual
definition of "green" would face the most scrutiny from industry and
environmentalists, a second industry source says. If a company
manufactures a product the state defines as a hazardous substance, but
uses sustainable methods, it is uncertain whether the product would
earn the green chemistry designation. This designation would likely
become heavily lobbied by the industry, the source says, and might
become a way for state government to unfairly fix markets.

Industry disputes the common argument by advocates of green chemistry
that the alternative chemicals are very marketable. "Very, very few
[chemicals] are sold to end-users," the source said. If the products
they become part of do not possess other green ingredients, the
products may not even be sold as green, the source said.

For the most part, consumers care about quality, service and price,
tending to give the last factor the most weight, the industry source
said. High compliance costs might mean companies would not want to
take on the additional burden of going green. Additional restrictions
on California companies may cause more of them to leave the state, or
may provide a disincentive for them to move to the state, the source

Many European companies have received subsidies to develop and market
the green chemicals, presenting an uncompetitive burden on U.S.
chemical companies, the first source says. However, the second source
says many American companies have European branches and may even have
benefited from the subsidies.

Environmentalists did not return calls for comment on green chemistry