This week has been a heady one for those of us who have been fighting to get attention for chemicals policy reform. Several key pieces of reform have taken huge steps forward at the federal, state and local levels.

The Safe Chemicals Act

This proposed reform of our 1976 law regulating chemicals in commerce, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) will finally be heard by a Senate Committee on July 25, 2012. Early versions of the Safe Chemicals Act were introduced in 2009 and every year since. This most recent version, as my colleague Richard Denison at EDF writes, represents significant progress towards real reform:

While we still have quite a ways to go to achieve real and lasting TSCA reform, the new language represents real progress toward the “sweet spot” – striking the right balance between the dual needs of ensuring vital public health protections, sustaining the economic health of the chemical industry and spurring it to innovate toward safer chemicals.

 

California’s Safer Consumer Product Regulations

The California Green Chemistry Initiative’s Safer Consumer Product regulations will be issued in final draft form on Friday, July 27, 2012, a key step in moving towards safer products. Under these regulations, manufacturers of products identified by Cal/EPA DTSC as Products of Concern containing Chemicals of Concern will have to perform an alternatives assessment, that is, find safer alternatives to that chemical. Alternatives could include a drop-in chemical substitute, a change in material or process, or a product redesign. California’s regulations, along with Maine and Washington, will serve as a model for federal chemicals reform.

Alameda County’s Drug Disposal Ordinance

Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously supported the country’s first ordinance that will require pharmaceutical manufacturers to take back unused medications as part of extended producer responsibility. The ordinance was introduced by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley.

Here’s what my product stewardship colleagues had to say about my home county:

“Today, Alameda County took a stand and said if the federal government and state legislators fail to act to protect public health and the environment, and the product manufacturers refuse to share in the responsibility for their products which they profited from, local governments will take action because the public is demanding it”, said Heidi Sanborn, Executive Director of the California Product Stewardship Council.

 

 The movement to have manufacturers pay for the end-of-life costs of their products is growing both among leading corporations and state and local governments in the United States. In Canada and other countries, an increasing number of companies already take responsibility for providing convenient collection of numerous unwanted products, including leftover medications.

 

 The issue of “who pays” for collection programs is bigger than just pharmaceuticals. “Dozens of new industry programs and state laws to reduce the lifecycle impacts of products in the U.S. have been initiated or adopted in the last decade” said Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer of the Product Stewardship Institute. There are now producer responsibility laws in 32 states for products including paint, mercury-containing fluorescent lamps, and electronics.

 

 But asking corporations to share in the responsibility should not be such a fight. Bill Sheehan, Executive Director of the Product Policy Institute said, “There are national discussions on packaging initiated by Nestle Waters and voluntary take-back programs funded by rechargeable battery producers. But not one pharmaceutical company has offered any help to safely collect unwanted medications, like they do in other countries. The industry failed to act. They forced government to mandate what’s fair: that they share in the responsibility.”