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Guide aims to help companies assess chemical safety

December 3, 2012

WASHINGTON (Dec. 3, 8:30 a.m. ET) — A coalition group of more than 500 leaders from businesses, non-governmental organizations, universities, and government agencies has put together The Guide to Safer Chemicals as a way for companies to assess chemicals and find replacements for potentially harmful chemicals.

“Comprehensive programs for safer chemicals are essential to innovation, informed decisions, and clear communication with suppliers,” said Mark Rossi, lead author of the guide, co-director of Clean Water Action, and founder and co-chair of BizNGO which released the guide today at its seventh annual meeting, which is being held in Berkeley, Calif.

“This ... is intended to revolutionize the way companies are able to move away from hazardous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives,” said Rossi. “Such steps offer new market opportunities by positioning U.S. businesses to meet emerging global consumer demands and be far ahead of any regulation.”

There was no immediate comment from the American Chemistry Council on the 64-page guide.

BizNGO said it was motivated to publish the guide because of continued new scientific research that emerges daily that links exposure to chemicals of high concern in products to the increasing incidence of serious chronic health problems, including asthma, childhood cancers, infertility and learning and developmental disabilities.

“The uncertainty surrounding the safety of chemicals is eroding consumer confidence in a wide range of products,” said BizNGO, whose stated mission is to promote the creation and adoption of safer chemicals and sustainable materials.

“The Guide will be an evolving resource of current and best practices of how organizations can implement safer alternatives to chemicals of high concern to human health or the environment,” stated BizNGO, which is a project of Clean Water Action.

“This is our first attempt at detailing the actions organizations are taking on the paths to the BizNGO principles for safer chemicals,” said the guide. “We recognize that many gaps exist in our reporting and that the benchmarks are imperfect and will need refinement.”

Staples, Hewlett-Packard, Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente, Construction Specialties, Novation, Perkins+Will, Shaw Industries, Seventh Generation, Method, and Premier are among the businesses that have endorsed BizNGo’s principles.

Environmental groups that are members of BizNGO include Health Care Without Harm, the Center for Environmental Health, the Breast Cancer Fund, the Ecology Center, Clean Water Action, Clean Production Action, and the Healthy Building Network.

BizNGO said companies should take four steps to determine whether the chemicals they use are harmful and to make continuous progress toward the goal of safe chemicals.

• Identify the chemicals in their products and within their supply chain and set goals to disclose that type of information to the public.

• Evaluate the chemicals in their process and products to identify chemicals of high concern and then implement programs to substitute safer alternatives.

• Establish a corporate chemicals policy, set goals for moving to safer chemicals, and publicly report on that progress.

• Advocate for the implementation of the above principles into public policies and industry standards through collaboration with NGOs and support of regulations and legislation supporting those principles.

The guide includes examples of how companies such as Seventh Generation, Clorox, Hewlett Packard, Nike, carpet manufacturer Interface, Timberland, Construction Specialties and hard drive manufacturer Seagate approach chemical assessment and safety.

“The combination of The Guide and the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals provides a comprehensive framework for managing chemicals in products,” said Troy Virgo, director of sustainability and product stewardship at Shaw Industries Group Inc., one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers, in a statement issued by BizNGO in its press release.

Helen Holder, materials manager at Hewlett-Packard Co., also testified to the usefulness of the new guide.

“The guide establishes clear steps for building a meaningful program for developing and adopting better materials,” she said. “We have found it to be helpful in communicating across the supply chain how to implement a green chemistry program.”

“Managing chemicals in products requires a systematic approach and constant attention to changing materials, consumer demands, and emerging science on the hazards of chemicals,” added Howard Williams, vice president and general manager at Construction Specialties Inc., a U.S.-based manufacturer of building and construction products. “The guide is the how-to-resource on how to succeed in managing chemicals in products and across supply chains.”