New Green Rules In California Take Safe Chemicals Out Of Use

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

That's the approach California bureaucrats are taking to implement the state's 2009-passed "green chemistry" law. Unfortunately, if they do eventually succeed, it could cost consumers and the economy dearly.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) closed its eighth comment period on their proposed green chemistry regulation last October.

At the end of January, the agency issued another revision and will take public comments until February 28.

The delays reflect well-justified concerns about high regulatory costs and scant evidence of any benefits.

The latest proposal will establish a list of "candidate chemicals" that the DTSC may eventually list as "concern chemicals."

The candidates list, which regulators say will exceed an earlier estimate of 1,200, will include substances that fit within certain politically derived categories — not because of any evidence that existing uses are likely to pose significant risks.

It is likely that the mere listing as a "candidate" and/or "concern" can demonize these chemicals even though existing consumer exposures are far too low to pose any real risk.

For example, hundreds of useful chemicals will be listed because massive doses produce tumors in rodents.

But it is the dose that makes the poison. Even broccoli, carrots, and other healthy foods cause tumors in rodents exposed to high doses, but we don't need to list them as potentially dangerous.

Regulators will also develop a list of "priority products" — those that the government may regulate because they use one or more "candidate chemicals."

Woe to the entrepreneur who worked tirelessly to develop a product that ends up on this list. His or her life work may be destroyed as the product is unfairly deemed dangerous.

Bureaucrats may call on manufacturers of priority products to conduct an "alternatives analysis" in which industry must explore whether "safer" substitutes are available.

The state will then open these industry reports to public comment, allowing environmental activists another opportunity to generate more negative press.

At the end of this process, if a product survives the bad public relations, regulators may ban or restrict them.

The danger of such political and unscientific regulation is already apparent where it has been applied. Consider regulators' treatment of the chemical Bisphenol A.

Manufacturers have safely used it to make clear, hard plastics and resins that have lined food cans for more than 60 years. Regulatory bodies around the world have determined that the benefits of using BPA outweigh any risks. Still, regulators targeted BPA because environmental activists hyped risks and captured headlines.

In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned BPA baby bottles and sippy cups even though an FDA representative told the New York Times that "based on all the evidence, we continue to support its (BPA's) safe use."

The ban came at the behest of industry, which has already removed these products from the marketplace because of bad public relations.

The baby bottle ban is building pressure for bans on other BPA uses, such as BPA-based resins that line food containers. These linings help prevent the development of rust and pathogens like E-coli and botulism.

But as one industry representative explained in The Washington Post during 2010, "(w)e don't have a safe, effective alternative" for these uses. As a result, BPA resin bans may eventually translate into serious food-borne illnesses.

Still, some people argue that we should at least seek substitutes to "be on the safe side."

They forget that every product on the market prevailed because it was the best to perform the job at an acceptable price at the time. Politically driven substitutes by definition will always be inferior.

Demonizing, restricting and banning safe, useful products simply wastes investment, discourages innovation, and diverts resources from useful enterprises.

Unfortunately, California isn't alone as several other states — Washington, Minnesota and Maine — are also pursuing similarly unscientific, anti-growth policies.