Chemical safety, especially when it comes to our everyday consumer products, is a topic of increasing relevance for the public. Almost weekly, news about food being contaminated, poisonous toys due to use of lead paints or unhealthy indoor air polluted by chemicals released from wall paint or furniture concern the public. Consequentially, calls for more stringent chemical management systems are con-stantly increasing. In fact, there is a trend toward hazard-based chemicals assessment fueled by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and regulators – as well as companies and brand-owners at the other end of the value chain.
One of the most popular examples is the SINList (‘Substitute it Now List”) developed by the NGO, ChemSec, which includes more than 600 chemicals. However, substance criteria and relevant processes of the SINList are largely unknown. Recently, the SINList was recognized by the EU Commission as being a source for substances to be placed under its Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals law, known as REACH. Considered among the strictest chemical regulations on record, REACH calls for a very complicated and costly process with the goal of outright substitution. Other examples include the EU’s Plant Protection Regulation and California’s Safer Consumer Products Regulation, both of which follow a phased approach to ban hazardous chemicals and promote substitution.
At first sight, hazard-based chemicals assessment may seem pretty easy and an appropriate tool to effi-ciently protect the public and the environment from negative impact caused by hazardous chemicals. Upon closer examination, it is only part of the truth. The impact of a hazardous chemical is largely dependent on exposure to that chemical – commonly examined during a period of risk assessment. We conduct similar calculations in everyday life. Everybody would probably agree, for example, that a lion, met in the wilderness is a dangerous animal and has the potential to seriously harm humans. If a man would meet a lion in its natural habitat, he most certainly would face a serious risk. However, if a man visits a lion in a zoo – the risk changes dramatically. With the lion kept behind bars, any visitor would assess the situation to be safe –even safe enough to take children on a visit. It is still the same, dangerous animal – its hazard properties remain unchanged. But within an enclosure the likelihood of direct exposure is significantly and very effectively reduced.
The same risk assessment principles can be transferred to chemicals. While the hazardous properties of a chemical cannot be changed (a lion al-ways remains dangerous), there are a range of effective measures available to minimize exposure (the bars in the zoo). Few would agree that lions should be banned from zoos. Following the same rationale, effective and responsible chemicals management needs to follow a risk-based approach. Protective risk management measures may in fact include substitution of a hazardous chemical – as the last resort, when the risk cannot not be effectively controlled by other means. Safe handling of our products at all stages of their life-cycle is of highest priority for the chemical industry. The following paragraphs provide insights into our continuous efforts and commitments to ensure chemical safety.
At BASF, our high product stewardship standards worldwide strive beyond regulatory compliance. Under our internal Goal 2020, we are reviewing the risk assessments for all BASF sales products. Progress is reported annually in our Company Report. However, BASF’s commitment to product stewardship does not end at the company gates. We take it further to the International Council of Chemicals Associations (ICCA), the global association of the chemical industry. ICCA promotes the voluntary Global Product Strategy (GPS) program, which is implemented by all major international chemical companies. The aim of GPS is to focus on enhanced product stewardship throughout the chemical life cycle with a specific focus on emerging and developing countries. Major activities of the program include:
- Guidance Material and Global Training: ICCA has established an easy-to-understand, step by step GPS Guidance on Chemical Risk Assessment, available in eight different languages and targets beginners with little experience in assessing chemical safety. ICCA works with the entire value chain to ensure that suppliers and customers can effectively evaluate the risks and successfully manage chemicals throughout their life-cycles.
- Transparent Access to Information: To make relevant and science-based information about chemicals available in an easy-to-understand language, chemical companies prepare so-called GPS Safety Summaries. More than 4,000 of these documents are publicly available at the GPS Chemical Portal.
- Public-Private Partnerships: ICCA cooperates with UNEP, the United Nations Environmental Program, to improve safe management of chemicals in the developing world. Both partners have started a Flagship Project in Africa focusing on two major ports for the import of chemical products into Ghana and Kenya. Applying the “train-the-trainers” concept, the goal is to enable local authorities and service providers to improve chemicals management practices at transport and warehousing.
BASF is the world’s leading chemical company, which also applies for our Product Stewardship programs. We work diligently to make sure our products can be handled safely throughout the value chain and, we are sharing our data and expertise with our industry peers and with the public. BASF believes that the best approach in Product Stewardship is a balance between sound regulations and voluntary industry initiatives, recognizing the chemical industry as an essential partner towards safe chemicals management globally.Dr. Martin Kayser is a Senior Vice President of Product Safety, Regulations Toxicology and Ecology at BASF.