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Sarah Janssen’s Blog

Governor Brown appoints new scientific experts to Prop 65 committees

Sarah Janssen

Posted November 21, 2012 in Health and the Environment

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The Brown administration took a significant step towards protecting the health of Californian’s this week. Governor Brown has appointed a new and highly qualified group of experts to two scientific committees that review chemicals for listing on “Prop 65”.  California maintains a list of chemicals that have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm and birth defects.  This list is known as the “Prop 65” list. The appointments by Governor Brown are to two committees, the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee (DART IC) and the Carcinogen Identification Committee (CIC).

Committee members will be charged with reviewing scientific summaries to make recommendations for placing new chemicals on the list. There are several mechanisms by which chemicals can be placed on the list. The Identification Committees are tasked with tackling chemicals that haven’t already been reviewed by other federal or international authoritative bodies such as the EPA or WHO. Each committee meets separately in public meetings with staff from the California EPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).

The new committee members have expertise in biology, statistics, toxicology, epidemiology, and clinical medicine, represent the entire state, and will fill some long vacant slots on these committees.  Several committee members were removed last year, including one with ties to the tobacco industry. Though it has taken a long time to appoint new members to the committees, NRDC applauds the Brown administration for undertaking a deliberate and thoughtful process to ensure that committee members had no conflicts of interest and possess the necessary expertise to carry out their important task.

The Prop 65 list, also known as the Safe Drinking Water And Toxic Enforcement Act, was established in 1986. The goal of the voter initiative was to protect drinking water from toxic substances and to warn consumers of potential exposures to these chemicals in consumer products or in public places so that exposures could be reduced or eliminated.  Chemicals on the list are not banned from consumer use but cannot be discharged into drinking water sources and the listing can trigger labeling requirements.  

The Prop 65 list now contains hundreds of chemicals and is updated regularly.  There are hundreds of chemicals on the list, including pharmaceuticals, heavy metals such as lead, notorious carcinogens such as asbestos and formaldehyde and many chemicals you have probably never heard of.  One of the most recent listings was the flame retardant, chlorinated Tris, which could now trigger labeling of upholstered furniture and other products containing this chemical.

Now that the committee members have been appointed – it is time to get down to work!

Neither committee has met this calendar year as is mandated by the law.  The CIC will meet next week, on November 29th.  The DART IC has not yet set a meeting date for 2012.  Committee members will need to get quickly up to speed on the Prop 65 process and will rely on Cal EPA staff to educate them, present them with priority chemicals for review and guide their deliberations. Though most chemicals have never been properly tested for toxicity, there is a long list of chemicals which have been identified by Cal EPA for review because there is enough data to raise concern about their impacts on reproduction, development and links to cancer.

Californian’s have let it be known they want to be protected from exposure to these toxics and expect that the State will take care of that. These experts have some tall marching orders and a big job ahead of them. I expect they are all up to the task!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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