It’s been a busy time in the chemicals world these last couple of months. The biggest challenge I face in writing this blog is riding the balance between reporting on progress in various industry sectors in selecting safer alternatives and the evidence of harm that continues to mount from our current way of managing chemicals. In the spirit of Stephen Colbert’s Tip of the Hat/ Wag of the Finger feature, therefore, I’m going to try and summarize some of the recent highlights on both themes. Fasten your seat belts for a quick trip through the latest news on chemicals in products…

  • Consumer products giant Proctor and Gamble, after a year of protests from consumers, to which P&G responded by removing posts from their Facebook site, has agreed to reformulate their flagship product, Tide detergent, to eliminate a carcinogenic residual, 1,4-dioxane; we can only hope that this will make P&G rethink potential hazards in the rest of its products;
  • Bisphenol-A, widely used in thermal paper receipts (all those credit card receipts you sign and retail workers touch every day) is going to be listed under California’s Prop 65; unfortunately, the safe harbor level in Prop 65 is set too high to really address the issue, since BPA acts at minute levels at critical stages of development;
  • Meanwhile, scientific studies are showing that the substitute for BPA, BPS, is turning up in our urine (81% of urine samples worldwide), and may be just as bad as BPA, because, like BPA, it mimics estrogen in our bodies; regrettable substitution anyone?
  • Sticking with the theme of BPA a little longer, a Canadian study has highlighted several industries which demonstrate a higher risk of occupational breast cancer. Across the board, sectors with workplace exposure to carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals (such as BPA) saw the highest rates of illness; the industries listed included agriculture, food packaging, and the manufacturing of automotive plastics. Clearly we still have work to do.
  • Cal/EPA’s  Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has released the latest draft of the Safer Consumer Product regulations, and is collecting input on which product/ chemical combinations should be the first targets for the ground-breaking program. If you were in their position and had the resources to start with only three or five product/ chemical combinations, how would you go about it? Would you include a formulated product (e.g. a shampoo) and what the European regulators call a manufactured article, (e.g., your new iPad mini)? What about the population that’s likely to be affected by exposure…the general population, a subset of workers, children, others? How would you balance that against aquatic ecosystem toxicity? Cost and performance of the potential alternative?  That’s what DTSC’s up against. Input welcome.