Maziar Movassaghi, acting director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), is determined to provide the United States with safer consumer products.
“More and more consumer goods are recalled lately because of the chemicals they contain,” Movassaghi said in a phone interview with Blue Planet Green Living.
Consumer products manufacturers will be required to “show they’re not using harmful ingredients, or face restrictions including a possible ban on selling those products,” according to a press release from Movassaghi’s office.
The DTSC took a step forward last month when they released a draft regulation that outlines a process for designing safer products. It is one of six planks of the California Green Chemistry Initiative, signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008.
Products of concern will be objectively and systematically prioritized based on factors like type of consumer and frequency of use. The DTSC will create a list of harmful chemicals. Then, they will require manufacturers to perform an “alternatives assessment” to determine if there are viable safer options.
“We want to tap into the innovation of American businesses,” said Movassaghi, “Green products are one of the fastest-growing, most profitable lines.”
Movassaghi is confident that American businesses are capable of redesigning their products to be safer. In fact, he points out, big companies like Clorox, Apple, and HP have already made great advances. Even pharmaceutical giant Pfizer started an annual green chemistry competition.
“Plus, green upstart companies, like Method and Seventh Generation, are really taking off,” Movassaghi said. “They almost can’t even be called upstarts anymore.”
Movassaghi told Blue Planet Green Living that he especially appreciates these environmentally conscious companies because even large corporations have had products recalled due to dangerous chemicals. For example, last month, McDonald’s Shrek drinking glasses were found to be tainted with cadmium.
“Twenty years ago, we didn’t know what dangerous chemicals were,” Movassaghi said. “But science has started to understand more and more, and our knowledge has expanded.”
Movassaghi thinks it’s time to take the approach still further. “Our approach is to identify solutions to the problem, not just identify the concern,” he said. “What we’re doing is unique and paradigm-shifting.”
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Maziar Movassaghi, acting director of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and leader of the state’s Green Chemistry Initiative, to answer two questions we like to ask our interviewees. Following are his responses. — Publisher
5 Ways to Save the Planet
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
- The overarching issue I’m going to respond to, and I think all these issues feed into it, is that everybody should not wait for the silver bullet, the one thing they can do that will fundamentally change everything about them. There’s a lot of fun stuff that we can do in our homes, little by little, that makes a big difference.
- To me, one of the most important is water usage. There are a lot of inexpensive alternatives out there, like dual-flush toilets, low-flow showers. In a good part of the country, especially in California, water shortage is going to be a big issue. For not too much of an expensive cost, folks can add cisterns, and capture rainwater and reuse it. I think this kind of stuff could be fun for kids.
- Another thing that is fun for kids is to have a little bit of a vegetable garden in your backyard and teach them about where their food comes from. I think it promotes both healthy eating, and gets them to think about seasonality of foods. And it’s fun, actually.
- Another thing that’s’ a big thing for my wife and me is that we barely use any chemical cleaners in our house. We actually clean the kitchen with vinegar. We mix vinegar and water, and we’ve never had any problems. It’s a much safer alternative, and it actually saves you a whole boatload of money.
- The last thing, which is a big deal for me, is that when we go visit friends or when we give gifts, we don’t give cut flowers, we always bring a potted flower. Or sometimes, we give a potted herb out of our garden. They last much longer. I think they’re aesthetically nicer, and nine times out of ten, the recipient has been much happier receiving something that will last for a little while.
2 Minutes with the President
BPGL: If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say?
MOVASSAGHI: On a personal level, I would ask him how he writes his speeches. [He laughs.] I still probably can recount a good portion of his 2004 speech at the DNC.
But the second thing I’d say is, at the federal level, we really need to look at the Toxic Substances Control Act. We’ve run it for 30 years, and there are significant problems. It’s time for a new approach, rather than tinkering around the edges; and we really think green chemistry is the way to move forward.
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