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Workers covered in California’s ground-breaking rules

Posted on Oct 2, 2013
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The "Green Chemistry Regulations" are finally coming to town

The long-awaited - and fought for - Safer Consumer Product Regulations take effect on October 1. Often referred to as the “green chemistry regs”, they are the most innovative U.S. rules that aim to improve public health by getting rid of, and reducing the use of, toxic chemicals. And they start in the right place – examining the hazards of chemicals, to prevent harm to the health of people and their environments. The program applies to workplaces and jobs.

CalEPA's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) launched the program on September 26, 2013 completing a journey that started in 2008.

DTSC was joined by representatives from Worksafe, other members of the CHANGE coalition (Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy), the state's Green Ribbon Science Panel, unions, environmental groups, public health officials, and some employers and product manufacturers. SCPR_Launch_9262013

Above: Some members of CHANGE with DTSC Director, Debbie Raphael, at the SCPR launch

The regulations (see the history here) are one part of the long and winding road called the California Green Chemistry Initiative. Despite huge opposition from the chemical industry, which is expected to file legal challenges pretty quickly, the final version includes:

  • a master list made up of international lists of about 1,200 toxic chemicals, called “candidate chemicals”, that will be narrowed down to about 230 “chemicals of concern”;
  • a process in which DTSC chooses “priority products” with at least one “chemical of concern” ingredient (there only will be a maximum of five priority products at first);
  • requirements that all manufacturers of those priority products look for other chemicals or processes (“alternatives analysis”) to end up with a less toxic product (they may have to take them off the market if they can’t);
  • opportunities for public input about priority chemicals and products; and
  • recognition of the importance of occupational -- workers’ -- health in all parts of the process.

Worksafe fought for the last result in particular. With allies from the environmental, public health, and labor movements, our wins include:

  • defining public health to include occupational health;
  • a list of respiratory sensitizers (chemicals that cause breathing allergies and are common in many jobs) on the list of “candidate chemicals”; and
  • rules that require alternatives analyses to account for health effects on workers using, or around, the priority products.
The regulations apply to “consumer products”, not all products used in workplaces. Still, they are used in many workplaces, from offices to health care facilities, and from construction sites to nail salons.

How can workers and their advocates use the regulations? We can:
  • use the lists of toxic chemicals [section 69502.2 (a)(1)] - DTSC will have it up on their website - to start asking questions about whether they’re in our workplaces;
  • check sources like ChemHAT and Haz-Map to find out about the hazards from these chemicals (there may be more than one);
  • push for products with these chemicals to be removed and/or replaced with less toxic ones;
  • look at sources like CleanerSolutions and SUBSPORT for less toxic chemicals and products, and advocate for their use in our jobs;
  • demand employers and manufacturers look for alternatives now, even if they don’t make a “priority product”;
  • petition for chemicals to be included on the lists of chemicals and priority products; and
  • use the recommendations in the Green Chemistry Initiative to push for other changes in our workplaces and beyond that will reduce the use of toxic substances.
For more information about the regulations and their effect on workers, send a note to Worksafe or call 510-302-1030.
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