San Francisco Chronicle

Martha Arguello, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles

Ansje Miller, Center for Environmental Health, Oakland 

Editor – The article by Dr. John Balmes and John Warner ("Keeping toxics out of consumer goods," Oct. 28) raised the importance of the California Green Chemistry Initiative. This initiative promises to give us a better way of making things. It raises the possibility that we can make protecting the health of current and future generations as important, if not more important, than protecting polluters' interests. Sounds great; we hope this promise is kept.

Imagine bringing an understanding of health and toxicology to how we make chemicals. The key question is whether the state of California will have the political strength to stand up to the chemical industry.

First, we must not wait to take action, even as we work to develop a sound, long-term chemicals policy. Many chemicals currently in use are known to be unsafe, and their use should be restricted or eliminated.

Second, we must recognize that the traditional notion that "the dose makes the poison" does not work with certain types of chemicals.

Third, data analysis and decision making must address cumulative exposures: protect the most vulnerable populations; consider environmental justice and impact on workers; and use full cost-accounting principles, including costs to communities.

Fourth, assessment of chemicals should focus on their intrinsic hazards.

Fifth, where safer alternatives exist for hazardous chemicals, mandate the use of these alternatives.

Finally, there must be mandatory regulations that accompany incentives for the development of greener chemicals.