What can happen when two women, one a scientific researcher in a university research center and another a program manager for the government share a phone call decide to collaborate?
Debbie Raphael had heard about an organization called ChemSec.org based Sweden that was formed around the idea of bridging the gap between the scientific, non profit community, government and industry to overcome the confusion that arises from conflicting research reports on chemical toxins.
Debbie Raphael is a Manager with the San Francisco Department of Environment for Toxic Reduction Program in San Francisco. As part of her responsibility, she feels it is key to identify “defensible criteria" in her selection or designation of safer alternatives. In hearing about the SIN List , a research and educational initiative championed by ChemSec, Deb asked around and learned that Meg Schwarzman, M.D., MPH and Research Scientist at University of California, Berkeley Center for Occupational Health and Environment had participated in the review of specific chemicals on this list.
Meg arranged for a conference call with ChemSec Leadership, Jerker Litghart, Project Coordinator, EU & Chemicals and Nardono Nimpuno, Policy Advisor. During the phone call Meg and Debbie discovered that Jerker and Nardono had a trip planned to the US. The four of them decided it would be convenient to organize a program in they convened together on January 27, 2009 called Substitute It Now.
Debbie felt this program important because the SIN list’s link to REACH made it particularly interesting because REACH is a potential model for California.
This simple formation of quality social networking formed out of a Debbie’s interest to learn and seek advice from someone she counts on for advice pertaining to how she does her job and the two of them linking with peers who had similar expertise and background and were part of a social innovation network seeking to address a societal issue that effects government, non profits and commercial industry.
The event was designed to help participants understand the origins of exploring the potential of ChemSec’s bold list of ‘Bad Actor" chemicals and to understand the role of the SIN list as it relates to REACH legislation.
Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals Legislation (REACH) grew out of 10 years of consensus building across 26 states in the European Union. Beginning, June 2007 to learn how to put this legislation completely into effect. The developments that wove into legislating REACH and the agenda behind the 11 year time line to insure this legislations effectiveness is an invisible story mixed with scientific research, an inquiry design supporting a culture of change in every sector and how scientists, policy experts, commercial industry and non- governmental organizations (NGOs) relate to engender change.
The Legislation is contained in 141 articles of explanation and 17 annexed sections comprising 278 pages. Unlike the last 40 years history of legislation related to the environment and hazardous toxins, REACH does not ask companies to ban use of chemicals based on standards of evidence already know at the time of legislation or based on a degree of certainty based on the information that environmental agencies already have. Instead, REACH asks industry to work with government, scientists, policy experts and NGOs to exercise precaution.
Beginning June 2007, 150,000 substances were registered in the REACH-IT database housed in Finland.
The formation of this data-base is calling on a unique pattern of networking that effects the work of anyone engaged in managing the reduction of use or impact of toxic chemicals reducing effecting the environment and health of people.
The development of the SIN List addresses a very important pattern in the scientific global community. REACH/SIN is pushing the formation of a new scientific research agenda based on the need for the public to know what is of potential harm to their health and the environment.
The process of generation of this list and the collaboration and forums that generate this activity is an example of a culture of change that is replacing the past 40+ years of dissent and protest that was an outgrowth of the reaction which occurred in the 1960’s when Rachel Carson published her book, Silent Spring.
While this kind of dissent was a vehicle out of which to build an understanding of the Earth Charter in Action , it has not been a vehicle for educating and giving public, industry, public health officials and legislators forums in which to learn what they need to know to act with timely response to do their jobs.
Debbie Raphael and Meg Schwarzman have shown what can grow out of a conversation based in intelligence to open a new forum of education. This forum is now an educational outreach for many people in that will help them improve their ability to do their jobs and be responsive to the issues and challenges that surround everyone today with respect to the environment and health.