Published:17 Apr 2013
Chemicals are an essential part of everyday living which the general public, to a large degree, takes for granted. Public attitudes, heavily influenced by the media, show little appreciation of the beneficial uses of chemicals, but much concern over those uses which may be deleterious to public health or the environment. Such concern has quite rightly led governments in the developed world to establish programmes such as REACH in Europe and the HPV Challenge Program in the United States which provide a hazard screening of chemicals and identify those representing the highest level of potential risk to health and the environment. Such screening is typically based on the three criteria of persistence, bio-accumulation and toxicity (PBT). Although even a relatively simplistic assessment of this kind requires a great deal of test data and is effort intensive, it is primarily designed to identify substances in the high hazard category and it does not provide a mechanism for ranking chemicals possessing some but not all of the adverse characteristics. This leads to a risk that in eliminating the use of a substance of concern, an alternative compound may be increased in use despite the fact that it may present high, albeit different, risks to health and the environment. Clearly, what is needed is a means of assessing and ranking chemicals, and that is the topic of this volume.
The first chapter by Margaret Whittaker and Lauren Heine is an overview of chemical alternatives assessment and the tools available to conduct that assessment. The chapter includes a very useful summary table of many of the more important tools available for comparative chemical hazard assessment. In the following chapter, Adrian Beard addresses the very topical area of flame retardants, which are widely used in consumer electrical goods and other products and many of which present a serious hazard to the environment. It describes the formation of an industry group to develop and promote more environmentally compatible products, mainly non-halogenated alternatives.
The following two chapters are more philosophical in nature. Jay Bolus, Rachel Platin and Christoph Semisch describe the concept of cradle to cradle product evaluation and certification. For those familiar with the cradle to grave concept, cradle to cradle may seem rather strange but the chapter explains how this title embodies the concept of how waste products should always be regarded as starting materials for another product or process, leading to maximal resource efficiency and eliminating waste. The following chapter deals with alternative assessments in the building industry. Brandon Zang, Raefer Wallis and Ryan Dick describe the operation of a system within China for assessment of building products which is proving highly successful in influencing the use of more appropriate substances. In the following chapter, Gregory Morose and Monica Becker, using plasticizers for wire and cable as a case study, demonstrate how collaboration between companies and universities to evaluate safer alternatives can provide valuable insights.
One of the more important protocols for chemical hazard assessment in the context of development of alternatives is the GreenScreen for safer chemicals. The working of the protocol is described in some depth by Lauren Heine and Shari Franjevic and in the following chapter, Helen Holder and colleagues describe the application of the GreenScreen for safer chemicals by the Hewlett-Packard Company. Another company using GreenScreen and other approaches is DSM, and Thomas Wegman and co-authors provide a picture of how the ethos of their company has developed towards creating products with an improved environmental performance and how tools such as GreenScreen have proved valuable in that transition.
Clive Davies and colleagues from the US Environmental Protection Agency explain how the Agency's Design for the Environment chemical alternatives assessments are conducted and how they are working towards harmonised methodologies initially for use in the United States and subsequently in other countries. Operating with Europe, ChemSec is an environmental NGO which has been influencing the phase-out of hazardous chemicals with key stakeholders such as policy-makers, progressive companies and financial investors. Jerker Ligthart shows how chemicals management has been promoted through dialogue and also through specific tools designed to make the necessary assessments. Finally, Joel Tickner and colleagues of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, explore the justification and rationale for requiring alternatives assessments that provide informed substitution and they provide an historical and current overview of chemical restriction and alternatives assessment policies. They set out valuable guidelines for the future development of chemical alternatives assessment.
The editors are grateful to Margaret Whittaker who provided invaluable assistance in identifying authors for this volume. We are delighted that, with her advice, we were able to attract authors from industry, government and non-governmental organizations so as to provide a balanced picture of this highly topical subject which we believe will be of value to scientists involved in chemicals manufacture and assessment, to policy-makers and to students in a wide range of courses concerned with chemicals and/or the environment.
Ronald E. Hester
Roy M. Harrison