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 ones.
The guide's lead author, Mark Rossi, said the guide helps give U.S. businesses an edge on emerging global market opportunities by keeping them ahead of any new regulation.
“Comprehensive programs for safer chemicals are essential to innovation, informed decisions, and clear communication with suppliers,” said Rossi, co-director of Clean Production Action and founder of BizNGO — for non-governmental organization.
BizNGO, which is a project of West Medford-based Clean Production Action, released the guide in early December at its seventh annual meeting, held in Berkeley.
“This ... is intended to revolutionize the way companies are able to move away from hazardous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives,” said Rossi.
There was no immediate comment from the Washinton-based American Chemistry Council on the 64-page guide.
According to BizNGO, it was motivated to publish the guide because of continued new scientific research that emerges daily linking exposure to chemicals of high concern to the increasing incidence of serious chronic health problems, including asthma, childhood cancers, infertility and learning and developmental disabilities. BizNGO maintains that exposure can come from products containing the chemicals.
“The uncertainty surrounding the safety of chemicals is eroding consumer confidence in a wide range of products,” according to 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,” it said.
BizNGO admits that the guide is a “first attempt at detailing the actions organizations are taking on the paths to the BizNGO principles for safer chemicals ... that many gaps exist in our reporting and that the benchmarks are imperfect and will need refinement.”
Among the businesses that have endorsed BizNGO's principles are: Staples, Hewlett-Packard, Kaiser Permanente, carpet maker Shaw Industries, building products supplier Construction Specialties, architecture firm Perkins+Will, health-care providers Dignity Health and Novation, health-care supply chain managment firm Premier, and household and personal-care product makers Seventh Generation and Method.
Environmental groups that are BizNGO members 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 ones of high concern and 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 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 maker Seagate approach chemical assessment and safety.
Helen Holder, materials manager at Hewlett-Packard Co., testified to the usefulness of the new guide, saying: “The guide establishes clear steps for building a meaningful program for developing and adopting better materials.
“We have found it to be helpful in communicating across the supply chain how to implement a green chemistry program,” she said.
“Managing chemicals in products requires a systematic approach and constant attention to changing materials, consumer demands, and emerging science on the hazards of chemicals,” said Howard Williams, vice president and general manager at Construction Specialties Inc., which has manufacturing operations in Cranford, N.J., and Muncy, Pa.
“The guide is the how-to resource on how to succeed in managing chemicals in products and across supply chains,” Williams said.