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March 13, 2014
Editorial: Baby nap mats and paint thinner make California's most-unwanted toxic chemicals list

baby_nap.JPG(March 13 - By the Editorial Board)

They are not necessarily the worst chemicals found in consumer products. The three chemicals targeted in the first crackdown of the state's Safer Consumer Products program aren't even the most ubiquitous.

They made the most unwanted list because they are contained in commonly used consumer products - infant sleep mats and two home-improvement products - and pose a serious health threat to users.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control on Thursday unveiled the first three "priority" products containing dangerous chemicals. State regulators say they will work with manufacturers to reformulate with less dangerous chemicals. This is a first-of-its-kind program that has the potential to change environmental health policy in this country. California is stepping in largely because industry lobbyists have been able to block federal regulators from removing toxic products from the marketplace.

The chemical industry likely will sue to block the California regulation, and the influential American Chemistry Council is lobbying for congressional legislation that would preempt California.

The rollout of the "green chemistry" initiative signed into law in 2008 has been slow in coming. Last fall, the bureau adopted regulations and identified chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic or pose other health threats. That led to this week's announcement.

The department picked its first three priority products wisely; more will be added in coming years. First on the list is a product sure to raise the hackles of every parent: a nap mat for babies that is manufactured with foam containing TDCPP, commonly referred to as chlorinated Tris. This flame retardant, linked to cancer, was banned decades ago for use in children's sleepwear but is still regularly used in furniture and baby products. Chlorinated Tris is particularly worrisome because it leaches toxins out over time, rather than off-gassing during its initial use.

These mats are sold at major retail outlets such as Target and Babies R Us, according to environmental activists.

No. 2 on the list may be sitting in your garage right now: a spray insulation foam containing diisocyanates with serious respiratory effects. The foam is sold under a number of brand names, including Great Stuff, and can be found in most home-improvement stores. It's not great stuff at all for those who breathe in the foam fumes without protective gear, and it has been particularly problematic for workers who use it on a regular basis.

The third targeted product is paint stripper containing methylene chloride, a chemical so toxic it has killed people who used it in close spaces. This is a product that is also sold under a variety of brand names, such as Jasco and Klean-Strip.

"This is not a ban," Debbie Raphael, the department's director, told The Bee's editorial board, noting that the 2008 law did not give the department the authority to ban the substances. Of course, a ban or other sanctions by lawmakers are possible if manufacturers refuse to work with California. That's important, as the state will probably need to wield that club to get the manufacturers on board.

On Thursday, the American Chemistry Council responded to the DTSC's announcement with skepticism. "As implementation proceeds, ACC, our member companies and other trade associations have continued to express concerns about whether the program in its current form will achieve the Department's long standing goal of a 'practical, meaningful and legally defensible' regulatory program."

Those sound like fighting words. It's a fight worth having for the health of the state.