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Schwarzenegger signs environmental bills

September 29, 2010 | 12:15 pm

It's been nearly two years since California enacted its green chemistry initiative, which was designed to change the environmental zeitgeist in Sacramento from a chemical-by-chemical approach to a more comprehensive scheme that would identify compounds of concern that ought to be phased out.

The initiative goes into effect in January, and so far there is only a draft regulation from the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which would prioritize chemicals of concern. Already, a tug-of-war is underway among environmentalists, manufacturers and regulators over the list, trade-secret protections, the minimum concentrations that would be allowed and the time line for phasing out even the substances known to cause harm.

Legislators, in the meantime, have responded with more chemical-by-chemical bills, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week signed several of them.

Included in Gov. Schwarzenegger's bill-signing frenzy this week were measures that would limit the use of the heavy metal cadmium in children's jewelry, chromium in coatings on toys, copper in brake linings and lead in sand-blasting beads.

Here is a list of the major bills signed into law:

SB 929: Addresses a loophole in a previous law banning lead in children's jewelry by regulating a metal now used as a substitute for lead: cadmium, which can cause kidney, lung and bone damage, particularly in children. It keeps any component of jewelry below a 300 parts per million standard, and allows state health authorities to set an even lower standard for cadmium. 

SB 346: Restricts the use of copper and other toxic chemicals in automotive brake pads. Dissolved copper is toxic to phytoplankton, which is the base of the aquatic food chain. It impairs the ability of salmon to avoid predators and deters them from returning to their home streams to spawn, according to a Senate analysis of the bill.

Scientific studies have shown that a major source of copper in highly urbanized watersheds is material worn off vehicle brake pads.  It is estimated that about one-half of the copper found in run-off is attributed to brake pads. According to the United States EPA, elevated levels of copper are toxic to aquatic environments and may adversely affect fish, invertebrates, plants, and amphibians. Acute toxic effects may include mortality of organisms; chronic toxicity can result in reductions in survival, reproduction, and growth. 

SB 1365: Adds chromium to a list of compounds not allowed in lacquers and other coatings on toys and updates state regulations on other toxic substances in toys. 

AB 1930: Prohibits the manufacture, sale, offering for sale or offering for promotional purposes of glass beads containing arsenic or lead above a specified level if those beads will be used with blasting equipment. Dust from such sand-blasting can expose workers to lead and can contaminate soil and water.

The governor also signed a bill addressing testing of farm workers for exposure to toxic chemicals in pesticides:

AB 1963: Requires laboratories conducting cholinesterase testing to determine workers' exposure to pesticides to report it to state pesticide regulators. The confidential information could then be shared among several agencies that monitor health and saftey issues for agricultural workers. Previous law on pesticide testing did not require reports to state agencies responsible for workers' health. Cut from the Senate's version of the bill, however, was a provision allowing the state Department of Public Health to assess fines against labs that fail to report.

Overexposure to organophosphate and carbamate pesticides can suppress cholinesterase, a nerve enzyme. Suppressed cholinesterol levels can lead to impaired reproductive function, birth defects, a weakened immune system, an increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia, nerve damage, severe neurological effects and even death. 

-- Geoff Mohan

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