February 15, 2018

California’s Safer Consumer Products Program – What Product Stewards Need to Know

One of the stated goals of California’s Safer Consumer Products (SCP) program is to reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products. What makes the program unique is that relies on Alternatives Assessment (AA) frameworks as a core evaluation tool. Another important aspect is that the program shifts responsibility on manufacturers, meaning that it’s important for product stewards to understand how the program works.

Karl Palmer, manager at the Safer Consumer Products Branch of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, walked attendees through an overview of the program during Product Stewardship 2017. It begins with the Candidate Chemical Lists, 15 of which are hazard-based and the rest based on exposure. From the lists, a list of Priority Products was developed, with the expectation that more products will be listed in the future.

The Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), which implements the program, is looking at a wide variety of consumer products to see if there’s potential for a listed chemical to cause significant and widespread effects, said Palmer. After a product is listed as Priority, the AA process kicks in, which could take over a year.

The good news for product stewards is that the AA process is flexible, and it doesn’t assume a predetermined outcome. In fact, the outcomes could be vary for different manufacturers. On the other hand, it’s up to individual organizations to perform robust analyses. Traditional regulations set an acceptable risk level, and companies comply. Without a clear numeric standard, companies will have to be clear about their data sources and methodologies in order to show that the risk level they propose is necessary.

“Transparency is going to be key,” said Palmer. For some companies, that’s a challenge, but it can be an opportunity to show you’ve done good work.

After the AA process is completed, there will be a regulatory-response phase, where DTSC will evaluate to determine whether additional research is needed to fill data gaps or technical issues. Ultimately, the agency can prohibit or restrict the sale of the product in California if necessary.

Palmer said not to approach it as a burden: “While it seems incredibly broad, which it is, and maybe overwhelming, which it could be, there is a process to help narrow it down.” Furthermore, the program continues to evolve as the community of practice addresses uncertainties, collaborates on approaches and develops tools.


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