Companies that manufacture or retail products in California should be aware of this new California statute and associated regulations.
On October 1, 2013, the Safer Consumer Products Act took effect in California, imposing new requirements on product manufacturers, importers and even retailers and assemblers of products, regarding the components of certain consumer products. The regulations are codified in Title 22, Division 4.5, Chapter 55 of the California Code of Regulations and will be administered by the Department of Toxic Substances Control ("DTSC").
The stated purpose of the Act is to require responsible entities "to seek safer alternatives to harmful chemical ingredients in widely used products." The DTSC's first responsibility under the Act is to identify candidate chemicals, or chemicals that have been identified as harmful by California, federal and international agencies. Within 180 days, the DTSC must create a list of priority products, consisting of no more than five products to which the Act's regulations will apply. This priority products list will be updated at least once every three years. A "priority product" need not be narrowly-defined, but may be as general as a "laundry product," encompassing a variety of consumer products. The DTSC will publish its lists of priority products and candidate chemicals on its website.
When a priority product contains a candidate chemical, the chemical is deemed a chemical of concern ("CoC"). A responsible entity ("entity") – one whose consumer product contains a CoC – must notify the DTSC within 60 days to identify itself and provide a list of brands containing the subject CoC. An entity thereafter faces three alternatives: (1) stop California distribution of the consumer product; (2) remove the CoC from the product; or (3) conduct an alternative analysis to demonstrate whether there is a feasible, less harmful replacement chemical.
The Act provides for DTSC supervision over the entity's choice. The entity must, for example, notify the DTSC if it opts to stop distribution in California, if it removes the CoC from its product or if it replaces the CoC with another chemical. If the entity retains the CoC in the product, the entity must submit a preliminary analysis to the DTSC detailing the reasons for which the CoC must remain in the product in lieu of alternative chemicals.
This preliminary analysis is supplemented by a final alternative analysis, after which the DTSC determines the appropriate action. The DTSC may decide to require the entity to inform consumers that the product contains the chemical or to restrict the sale of the product. The DTSC may even prohibit distribution and sale of a product even if no alternative chemical exists.
At present, unlike Proposition 65 enforcement, citizens are not entitled to bring a private right of action, on behalf of an individual or the general public. Rather, the DTSC is responsible for the Act's enforcement. Any entity that has violated a regulation will be listed on the DTSC's Failure to Comply List on its website. A violation may also result in the DTSC's imposition of a fine or criminal penalty as determined by the Health and Safety Code. A product may be exempt from compliance, however, where the CoC is below a certain threshold, as long as the CoC is a naturally-occurring contaminant of the product. A product may also be exempt if it is made up of more than 100 subparts, as long as the product is not a children's product or clothing.
Although the Act has been criticized by some for its weak enforcement and penalty measures, it is still significant for product manufacturers and other entities who manufacture, sell and distribute their consumer products in California. These entities should remain informed of the DTSC's priority products and candidate chemicals lists. If an entity's product contains a CoC, it is the entity's responsibility to ensure compliance with the Act's provisions.