Inside Cal/EPA  [Printer-friendly version]
October 27, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: California's Environmental Protection Agency
(Cal/EPA) now favors a 'green chemistry' policy for California. The
chemical industry says its chemistry is already plenty green. Perhaps
the industry has a different kind of green in mind.]

The [California Environmental Protection Agency's] health hazard
office is supporting recommendations in a recent University of
California (UC) report [600K PDF] promoting the advancement of a so-
called "green chemistry" policy that is expected to be pushed in
legislation next year.

The office agrees with the report's findings that data gaps are
hampering regulators' efforts to identify toxicity characteristics of
many chemicals.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment's support for an
improved chemical information database could influence the fate of
green chemistry legislation expected to be introduced early next year.

But chemical industry groups argue they already engage in green
chemistry practices and say chemical toxicity data is largely already

The Department of Toxic Substances Control Oct. 24 held a "Green
Chemistry Symposium" to discuss what direction California should take
regarding more environmentally friendly chemical manufacturing
processes. Also discussed was the controversial UC report submitted
earlier this year to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and
Assembly Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials Committee. The report,
Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals
Policy and Innovation, includes two years of research and analysis on
the status of existing California and federal chemical policies.

The report recommends the state seek several policies, including
providing rewards to businesses that invest in green chemistry;
improving the flow of chemical toxicity and other data through the
supply chain and to the public; and implementing measures to improve
government's ability to identify and reduce chemical hazards in the

Data gaps described in the report include the absence of standardized,
robust information about the hazards of chemicals in commerce, which
impedes government from identifying and acting on chemical hazards.

Melanie Marty, an OEHHA scientific affairs division manager, said at
this week's symposium that the database the office uses to analyze the
toxicity of many chemicals includes significant data gaps. These gaps
have impacted OEHHA's ability to work with other Cal/EPA agencies to
evaluate the environmental fate of chemicals, she said.

This problem recently occurred when the air board came to OEHHA for an
opinion on a chemical the board was considering as a substitute for
the toxic dry cleaning agent, perchloroethylene, which the board is
phasing out, Marty said. "The toxicity database is wimpy -- it has to
include developmental and neurotoxicity [data]. These are areas that
miss the boat."

An OEHHA spokesman said after the meeting that OEHHA typically deals
with limited data whenever it assesses the health effects of
chemicals. "Only occasionally, such as with lead, do we have the
luxury of having a robust data set" the spokesman said. "The norm for
us is to conduct an assessment with gaps in information on the health
effects of a chemical."

There is often relatively little information on the effects of
specific chemicals on children, the spokesman added. OEHHA
toxicologists normally compensate for data gaps by using uncertainty
factors in risk assessments. "The more data we can get on a chemical,
the more precise our risk assessment and the less we have to rely on
uncertainty factors."

A chemical industry source would not comment specifically about the
points raised by OEHHA, but stated there is already a wealth of health
and safety information being made publicly available through various
programs, such as the High Production Volume (HPV) Challenge program
at U.S. EPA. "The HPV chemicals will represent approximately 95%, by
volume, of the chemicals currently in commerce in the U.S.," the
source said. HPV chemicals are those manufactured in or imported into
the U.S. that equal a volume of at least one million pounds per year.

The EPA program involves companies volunteering data summaries of
existing information and testing to fill any data gaps. For each of
the HPV chemicals covered in the program, industry provides 17 types
of information, including studies assessing acute toxicity, subchronic
toxicity, genotoxicity, and developmental and reproductive toxicity,
the industry source said.

Details of potential California green chemistry legislation in 2007
remain unclear. Bruce Jennings, a Senate Environmental Quality
Committee consultant, said at the meeting he does not have much to
reveal. But he does have "some clues" about what the Senate committee
may be inclined to support.

Jennings said the "elephant in the room" is the inability of Cal/EPA
to fully analyze about 1,000 key chemicals. "We have at Cal/EPA
scientists saying we have these sorts of chemical problems all the
time," he said. "It does behoove us to work together, especially on
this group of chemicals where so often Cal/EPA scientists are left in
the netherworld for lack of information."

OEHHA Director Joan Denton said earlier in the meeting that OEHHA has
relied solely on Proposition 65 as a tool to pursue green chemistry
concepts of regulation. Prop. 65 requires OEHHA to publish at least
annually a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or
reproductive toxicity. As part of this process, OEHHA is charged with
periodically reviewing risk assessments of chemicals already listed by
authoritative bodies or for chemicals of concern identified by
advisors, among other tasks.

Jennings said Prop. 65 includes a large group of chemicals where
information is lacking, adding this area must be addressed. "Denton is
right to rely on 65, but it doesn't begin to touch on the larger group
of chemicals -- and what do we do about that? We need to devise
something about that chemical universe."