Angela Logomasini

“Green chemistry” has become the latest craze and now government agencies are sponsoring programs to teach it to kids in school. But what exactly is green chemistry? Some say it’s simply about making products safer, but it actually comes loaded with a political agenda that isn’t really about safety—it’s about control.

The ostensive goals of “green chemistry”—safer products—surely can be achieved without government, driven purely by market demand. In fact, industry performs its own version of green chemistry every time it develops new products because after all, businesses don’t succeed by poisoning their customers. They succeed by producing useful and safe products at affordable prices.

But the environmental activists want government-driven green chemistry, which is something completely different than market-driven green chemistry.

Green chemistry’s political formulation is most apparent in California where state bureaucrats are soon to release implementation regulations for the state’s Green Chemistry Initiative, a law passed back in 2009.

The regulations will establish a “chemicals of concern” list, including substances that fit within certain politically derived categories—not because existing uses pose significant risks. For example, hundreds of useful chemicals will be listed because massive doses produce tumors in rodents. Mere listing will demonize these chemicals even though existing consumer exposures are far too low to pose any real risk.

After all, it is the dose that makes the poison. Even broccoli, carrots, and other healthy foods cause tumors in rodents exposed to high doses. But no one would consider placing broccoli on a “concern list.”

According to California regulators, the agency will place about 1,200 chemicals on the concern list, sending signals to consumers, retailers, and manufacturers to avoid these substances. As a result, rather than maintain focus on product performance, affordability, safety, and consumer demand when designing products, manufacturers will be forced to serve the political preferences of regulators.

In the next phase, regulators will develop a “products of concern” list composed of products made with “chemicals of concern.” Woe to the entrepreneur who worked tirelessly to develop a product that ends up on this list. His or her life work may go up in smoke as the product is unfairly deemed dangerous.

For products that remain on the market even after the bad public relations, bureaucrats may call on manufacturers to study whether there are “safer” substitutes and then impose bans and other restrictions.

Angela Logomasini

Angela Logomasini, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and Competitive Enterprise Institute.