Toxic regulators name foams, paint strippers as first targets of Safer Consumer Products rules

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As a major step in an effort to limit Californians’ exposure to hazardous chemicals, toxics regulators have announced the first products they want companies to reformulate to make them more safe. 

The three “priority products” for which the Department of Toxic Substances Control wants to find a safer alternative are a kind of paint stripper, spray foam, and foam sleep mats for children.

California’s Safer Consumer Products Regulation does not ban the products. Instead, it identifies products formulated with at least one chemical of concern, prioritizes risks and asks manufacturers to seek ways to reformulate the product.

A variety of infant and child sleep mats, soft-sided portable cribs, play pen foam, car bed foam pads and other foam pads are targeted by the DTSC for containing the chemical known as chlorinated tris, or TDCPP.  It’s a flame retardant that was removed from children’s clothing in the 1970s. California has determined that it causes cancer. It is linked to endocrine disruption and may affect fertility. It can escape into the air and bind to dust, which is why state regulators say children who spend hours around these products are most at risk.

Spray polyurethane foam is another targeted product. About half the spray foams on the market today contain diisocyanates, which have been known to cause asthma and allergies. Repeat exposure can worsen symptoms associated with this sub-class of spray foam, and it may be linked to cancer.

Paint stripper formulated with methylene chloride causes cancer and other chronic health problems. Liquid methylene chloride is a chlorinated solvent that’s highly volatile and hazardous when breathed or absorbed through skin.

Federal authorities have long issued warnings about this class of paint strippers, having documented at least a dozen deaths nationally connected to the product’s use. The DTSC says workers finishing bathtubs, home do-it-yourselfers, pregnant women and children are most at risk from exposure to the chemical. The state has already issued warnings about methylene chloride.

As a result of today’s announcement, manufacturers are required to notify the state if they make a product containing the hazardous chemical. Companies then are required to conduct an “alternatives analysis,” in which they seek less toxic ingredients for products of concern. DTSC officials say the outcomes of those analyses will determine the regulatory response. 

DTSC chief Debbie Raphael and other top officials emphasized that this process is groundbreaking. "This is the first time in the world that this approach has been put into place," said Raphael. "And this department and this administration wanted to make sure that the rules of this program were practical, meaningful and legally defensible."

The American Chemistry Council, on the other hand, stressed that the new regulations being put into practice are "untested."

"Being included on this list does not mean that the state has determined there is a risk of harm posed by the use of these products," the ACC said, in a written statement. 

Chemical industry advocates point out that the Environmental Protection Agency is actively evaluating some of the products on the DTSC list, and argue that California is relying on incomplete information in making its rules.  

This story will be updated.

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