New York is poised to create a list of 85 chemicals for state agencies to avoid buying, a measure short of a ban but which could still drive industry to produce fewer products with toxins and carcinogens.
The proposal would leverage the state's extensive buying power amid a debate pitting health advocates against business representatives over the best way to comply with Gov. David Paterson's 2008 executive order to buy environmentally friendly products.
The "chemical avoidance list" comes from an advisory council that wants some $9 billion in annual state purchasing used to help rid the marketplace of toxic chemicals and likely carcinogens. Advocates point to environmental contamination and human exposure from use, manufacturing and disposal of items that have even small quantities of substances like mercury.
Anne Rabe, an advisory council member from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, said the effort follows similar steps by local governments in New York's Suffolk County and states including Massachusetts, California, Maine and Washington.
A handful of substances on the list, pesticides and clothing flame retardants, are already banned by the state, Rabe said. Others include components of solvents, herbicides, plastics, preservatives, glues, carpets, paints, dyes and lubricants.
"It drives the market toward safer products," said Dr. Ted Schettler, adviser for the advocacy group Science and Environmental Health Network. He noted federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies show widespread exposure of Americans to several hazardous chemicals in consumer products.
Stephen Rosario, of the New York State Chemical Alliance, said chemical companies directly employ almost 50,000 New Yorkers and chemical products touch 96 percent of commerce. Also an advisory council member, he said its 9-1 vote to recommend the list was "undemocratic" since he was the only business representative.
J. William Wolfram, director of Global Regulatory Affairs from the Schenectady chemical company SI Group, told a committee of state purchasing officials this week that the simple list fails to address human exposure and calculate actual risk.
"It doesn't have any information about allowable concentrations of materials in products," Wolfram said. "There has to be some reasonableness about this. ... You don't say this is a hazardous material, case closed, we're done."
It would, for example, avoid Bisphenol A, a plastic used as a light, durable substitute for glass, which is often used in eyeglasses.
The advisory council's list, drawn from federal, international, other state and municipal lists, cites the European Union position that studies indicate that chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, is an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen, which was widely used in linings on bottles and food cans.
The state's Interagency Committee on Sustainability and Green Procurement referred the list to a subcommittee to examine it in terms of the actual purchasing that state agencies are required to do. Members said final recommendations will be posted and subject to public comment. No dates were immediately set.