“Is it necessary?” That’s the key question the State of California is asking about chemicals in consumer products that are known to cause serious harm to people or the environment. The state took a small but very significant step today in its Safer Consumer Product program, identifying the first three product-chemical combinations they plan to evaluate for regulation. Two are actively used in construction. There are compelling cases for getting rid of each of them:
- Methylene chloride in strippers used on paint and varnish and surface cleaners. Methylene chloride metabolizes to carbon monoxide in the body and has killed at least fourteen bathtub refinishers since 2000 as well as being a carcinogen. Alternative products are available in the marketplace now.
- The flame retardant chlorinated tris (TDCPP) in children’s foam sleeping mats. Chlorinated tris is a known carcinogen that was banned from kids pajamas in the 70s but nonetheless continues to be used as a flame retardant in baby products and furnishings. There is no evidence that there is any fire safety benefit from the use of tris in sleeping mats so the simple solution is for manufacturers to stop adding it.This is an important step in California's moves to reduce exposure to toxic flame retardants.
- Unreacted diisocyanates in spray polyurethane foam (SPF) systems: Diisoyantes in SPF foam are a leading cause of occupational asthma, have been the subject of ongoing concern by the EPA and even been associated with home explosions. Some isocyanates, like TDI, are also carcinogens.
Avoidance of isocyanates will be the most challenging of the three. While in some applications, such as wall cavities, spray cellulose or fiberglass can easily replace SPF, in other applications such as crack sealing or roof coatings, there are no clear alternatives. This is a clear challenge to the industry to gear up alternatives research. It is also potentially a big opportunity for new insulation types, such as Ecovative's mycelium based, grow-in-place insulation to enter the market.
State officials reiterated that this is “not a ban” but rather the “start of a conversation with the people of California” on whether these chemicals are necessary and to encourage safer use or replacement or alternatives. Eventually the state could issue similar challenges to uses of any of the other 1100 priority chemicals listed by the state as candidates. All of the California Safer Consumer Product program chemical lists are now searchable in the Pharos Chemical & Material Library .
The list of three product-chemical combinations released today is only a draft list. It will be subject to public hearings this summer before rulemaking to finalize regulations for each. It could be as much as two years before manufacturers must undertake alternatives analyses for their use of the chemicals or substitutions. Nonetheless, this week’s action represents an important step forward to questioning the use of toxic chemicals in products.