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chemical warning sign

Do Chemical Assessment Tools Work?

chemical warning signLeading chemical assessment tools may not provide product manufacturers and retailers with adequate hazard-screening information, according to a study published in the Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management journal.

The analysis of chemical assessment tools — authors include Dow Chemical, American Chemistry Council and two consulting firms — finds that when evaluating the same chemical, individual tools come to different conclusions regarding the hazard categorization of each chemical.

This may call into question the extent to which such tools can provide product manufacturers and other stakeholders with definitive and actionable information about chemical substances in consumer products without further analysis and contextual information.

The analysis comes as the EPA has proposed changes to the Risk Management Program chemical safety rules that would require some facilities that use and distribute hazardous chemicals assess whether safer technologies and chemicals are feasible.

It also follows new regulations under California’s chemical-warning law, Proposition 65, which requires businesses to disclose the presence of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The Prop. 65 list currently includes more than 800 chemicals.

The study reviewed select chemicals using the following hazard-based screening tools:

Retailers and product manufacturers are increasingly using a variety of tools, lists and other approaches to determine whether specific chemical ingredients in consumer products may be a concern, or to certify that chemical ingredients are safer for humans and the environment. The study authors conclude that there is a need for enhanced transparency and understanding of what each tool was designed to measure, as well as the appropriate conditions for each tool’s use, and suggest possible enhancements to the tools to increase their utility.

The various approaches analyzed in the study focus on a chemical’s innate “hazard,” meaning they consider whether the inherent properties of a chemical substance could cause harm to humans or the environment under any circumstance. Hazard-based screening does not consider how a chemical is actually used in a product, how much of the chemical substance exists in those uses, and whether and to what degree there is human or environmental exposure to the chemical substance through such uses.

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