Electronic Design

Green Chemistry Initiative Has Critics Seeing Red

California has set many legal precedents. For example, it was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and nine other states have since followed its lead. Now, California is preparing the nation’s toughest standards for chemical use with its Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), which was launched about a year ago.

If you thought the European Union’s Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) were tough, you ain’t seen nothing until you meet a bill signed into law last October by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bill attempts to mimic open-source technology, as California has gathered roughly two dozen top scientists and engineers (including Nobel Prize winners) from around the world to evaluate the health effects of chemicals being used in several industries and look for alternatives.

“These are the people who invent molecules we will use in the future,” said Maureen Gorsen, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). “If we want chemicals that will lead to environmentally sustainable products, these experts can tell us what policies will achieve that goal. Having these distinguished scientists on board is a big asset to the program.”

The GCI Plan Of Attack

Essentially, the bill will establish a framework to engineer less toxic chemicals, decide how best to stimulate green chemistry, develop a strategy to hold manufacturers more accountable, and develop criteria to avoid accidental deposits of toxins into products. Based on the recommendations from the panel, the DTSC will establish a chemical management protocol that will require manufacturers, including semiconductor plants and printed-circuit board (PCB) fabs, to disclose chemicals used during the fabrication process based on risk scenarios.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

In the eyes of the GCI, chemicals are guilty of posing health risks until they’re proven innocent. Therefore, no matter how minor the risk, chemicals will be banned from use as long as a substitute can be found. The initiative will require a paradigm shift in product development from scientific, risk-based approaches to methods that require extreme caution, aping the European Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) regulatory system.

The Negatives

According to the Interconnecting and Packaging Electronic Circuits (IPC) association, the bill “would have major adverse implications for all types of industries including the electronics industry.” The IPC also says this bill will be “much worse than RoHS,” as it would “ban many chemicals and mandate the use of so-called ‘safer alternatives.’” Furthermore, the association said “California’s Green Chemistry Initiative would set a negative precedent for chemicals management reform.”

If the IPC’s assessment of the bill is true, companies like Spansion and Sanmina, located in the Bay Area, could really suffer its wrath. This bill could upset their manufacturing methods to the point where they may simply opt to take their business to another state. So if it does indeed have such an adverse effect on the bottom lines of California semiconductor and PCB manufacturers, will other states follow California’s lead?

Where Do We Go From Here?

The GCI is a classic case of a sweeping initiative that may do more damage to certain industries like PCB and semiconductor manufacturing. On the other hand, isn’t it in our best interest to do everything we can to keep reduce toxins? So we come back to the quintessential question: Is green always the correct color? If not, what color should we be targeting?

Department of Toxic Substances Control


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