From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Long a pacesetter in efforts to control dangerous chemicals, California is moving toward sweeping new rules to reduce toxins in cleaning products, cosmetics, electronics, toys and possibly many other consumer goods.

They are among the most cutting-edge codes of their kind since 1986, when voters passed Proposition 65. That law set a national precedent by forcing businesses to warn customers if they “knowingly and intentionally” expose people to chemicals the state determined to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Otherwise, regulators often deeming chemicals or other compounds safe until proven harmful.

The newly proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulations will be debated by industry, academics and environmentalists for months as they move toward final form in late 2012.

They would roughly quadruple the number of chemicals targeted by the state and require companies not just to notify consumers, but to look for less-damaging alternatives. Companies must phase out toxins, do more research, take other measures approved by regulators or face fines of $25,000 per day.

The still-evolving plan was created to minimize “regrettable substitutions,” swapping one risky compound for another.It should help prevent scenarios like the one in which jewelry manufacturers traded lead for cadmium, another dangerous metal.

“This is revolutionary stuff. This is a real sea change in chemical policy,” Tim Malloy, an environmental law professor at UCLA, told regional business leaders at a forum last week in San Diego.

On Monday and Tuesday, the state’s Green Ribbon Science Panel will meet in Sacramento to assess the strategy as it moves through the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

There’s something in the draft rules for almost everyone to embrace and everyone to question. The proposal faces criticism from business backers concerned about the state driving companies away with “chemophobia,” along with myriad practical questions about how a regulatory program will work.

It’s not clear how much compliance will cost, which chemicals and products will be targeted first, how to balance company secrets with demands for transparency, which kinds of human harm will take precedence in ranking health problems and how the toxics control department will develop a rigorous oversight program without additional money.

“Industry wants clarity and certainty. DTSC wants something that’s enforceable,” said John Ulrich co-chairman of the Green Chemistry Alliance, a business-based group. “Somehow or another, we have got to find the balance.”

Kathryn Alcántar, California policy director for the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, says the rules could create significant benefits for consumers but she fears the current version gives businesses too much ability to hide product information.

“If there is not enough transparency … then people are not going to have faith in the program,” she said.

Once implemented, the new rules will influence manufacturing around the world to the extent that companies align their entire product lines with California law to avoid raising questions about differences between products. They also could foster of a new industry in the state devoted to finding safer products.

“There is an equal feeling across the planet — an unease — with evidence of harm that we are seeing in the natural world, the buildup of chemicals in our bodies that we were never evolved to deal with, and a realization that the source of those chemicals probably isn’t only the manufacturing but actually consumer products,” said Debbie Raphael, director of the toxics control agency.