RICHMOND -- State regulators gathered at a green stamp-making business Thursday to unveil what they tout as the nation's best approach to identify consumer products containing hazardous chemicals and prod manufacturers to find nontoxic substitutes.
The new program, run by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, goes into effect Tuesday¿. State regulators said it would spur new business growth while reducing environmental toxins from common products, and pointed to Hero Arts, an expanding Richmond business that relies on organic colors and dyes.
"Innovative and forward-thinking companies realize the opportunities for growth that stem from this cutting edge regulation," Department of Toxic Substances Control Director Debbie Raphael said. "Smart businesses are already planning ahead."
About 30 state officials and local business leaders gathered at Hero Arts' facility near Richmond's waterfront to hear about the new regime, called the Safer Consumer Products Initiative.
The agency has crafted the complex program since 2008, when the state Legislature passed then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "green chemistry" initiative. Gov. Jerry Brown backs the program as part of his effort to grow business and lead on environmental policy, state officials said.
A DTSC news release hailed the initiative as a unique approach. Moving beyond the standard approach whereby state or federal lawmakers ban the use of certain chemicals in specific products, the new rules call for regulators to compile lists of products for review. Manufacturers of those products will be expected to provide analysis and explanation about why toxic chemicals are needed and whether substitutes are feasible.
"The burden will fall on the manufacturer to justify the use" of a given toxic, said John Ulrich, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of California. "But this is very complex, a paradigm shift in how we regulate, and it will take time to have the desired effects."
DTSC staff will develop a list of more than 100 products that contain dangerous chemicals, Ulrich said. Based on that list, regulators will select five consumer "priority" products, and require the makers to analyze them and look for alternative production materials.
Hero Arts CEO Aaron Leventhal, who has worked with state officials to push for the new regulations, said his company is a prime example of how innovation and cleaner production can be driven by private companies.
Launched 40 years ago by his mother, Hero Arts has eliminated the use of toxic dyes, uses lumber from sustainable farms, and occupies facilities designed for energy efficiency. While greening, the company has also expanded, moving five years ago from Emeryville to a former cannery building in Richmond.
He has 60 employees, many of whom worked while Leventhal gave state officials and media a tour of his 20,000-square-foot production floor. Leventhal said he has also been able to persuade his suppliers and other partners to reduce the use of toxic ingredients and waste.
"We endeavored to eliminate all chemicals and toxins from our business," Leventhal said. "And we learned that it was good for business."