Home Science Regulating chemical groups is a cost-effective way to ensure chemical safety

Regulating chemical groups is a cost-effective way to ensure chemical safety

by Prittle Prattle Team
Regulating chemical groups is a cost-effective way to ensure chemical safety

In Europe alone, almost 23,000 chemicals are produced or imported in quantities of greater than one tonne every year. They can be found in the clothes we wear, the shampoos we use, and a variety of other aspects of our daily lives.

This number alone indicates the regulatory scope required if the issue is addressed by evaluating the safety of each chemical on a substance-by-substance basis. Policymakers now consider categorizing the compounds as a possible approach for making chemical safety decisions easier. However, difficulties continue to exist.

The advantages of chemical use must be weighed against the need for effective regulation.

Chemicals are frequently used as a critical component in a variety of industries. We recognize their relevance in the textile sector, whether in insecticides used to develop raw materials like flax or fabric dyeing for garments. However, the advantages gained may be accompanied by severe hazards. Chemical safety rules that are ineffective can have devastating health and environmental repercussions. Failure to regulate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), for example, may increase the risk of cancer diagnosis or cognitive impairment in those exposed to the chemicals. When author Rachel Carson wrote a seminal book on the environmental consequences of DDT, a chemical molecule present in pesticides extensively used in agriculture at the time, several POPs gained headlines.

While risk evaluation of thousands of compounds is critical for their safe use, it may be a costly and time-consuming process. The groundbreaking Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was the first step in simplifying the regulatory process by addressing all substances with similar intrinsic features (i.e., Persistent, Bio-accumulative and Toxic or PBT). Several decades after Carson’s book was released, the Convention imposed a global ban on DDT for agricultural use as part of the first set of 12 substances. It continues to add to its list of prohibited substances. The PBT criteria for detecting Persistent Organic Pollutants have also been included in national and regional legislation, such as the EU REACH regulation or the United States Toxic Substances Control Act.

During its Global Forum on Environment last month (November 2020), the OECD conducted a session on grouping chemicals for regulatory decision-making to discuss progress in countries ranging from Canada to New Zealand. The panelists discussed policymakers’ regulatory consistency and the need to move away from “regrettable replacement” hazards in a substance-by-substance approach.

The practice of replacing a controlled chemical with an unregulated molecule with the same qualities is known as “regrettable substitution.” Bisphenol A is the most well-known example (BPA). BPA, which has a substantial harmful influence on human health, is commonly advertised on infant bottles and cash register receipts. After regulators dealt with BPA, several additional bisphenol variations made their way onto the market and into products. Policymakers are now adopting a cohesive strategy to combat climate change.

The case study of PFAS
The chemicals grouping strategy has become mainstream two decades after the Stockholm Convention was signed, with the OECD focusing its efforts on per- and polyfluorinated compounds (PFAS). These compounds can be found in various products, including textiles and firefighting foam. They, like many chemicals, have their own set of environmental and health risks. Many PFAS are persistent compounds, meaning they do not degrade in the environment and accumulate in the body. Putting hazardous components into the food chain can be harmful to wildlife. Some PFAS have been discovered to be harmful to human health, including problems with the reproductive system and cognitive functions. However, progress on PFAS regulating measures has been hampered by the issue of “regrettable substitution.” Long-chain bans, for example. PFAS induced the emergence of numerous types of short-chain fatty acids.
For the first time, the EU has used a grouping approach with PFAS, following a recommendation by the EU Commission to prohibit all compounds in that category under the Drinking Water Directive. While legislators could not agree on treating all PFAS, they are keeping an eye on a quick list of 20 compounds until the EU Commission certifies a method for assessing all PFAS, which is likely to take three years. This regulation approach to PFAS has also enabled the development of alternatives, rather than the industry simply substituting compounds with identical inherent properties. Even if concerns about the expected cost differential exist, a recent OECD analysis highlighted non-fluorinated alternatives to short-chain PFAS.
New Zealand’s approach vs. the EU’s
The requirement of group standards does not guarantee international agreement or a consistent approach. For example, this discrepancy can be seen between New Zealand and the EU. The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act governs chemical classification in New Zealand. More than 200 group standards are included in the legislation, making the chemical safety process easier in essential areas. Instead of going through the country’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), the legislation allows businesses to self-assign material to one of the group standards. Still, records should be open to public examination.
The EU’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) Act uses different processes. In this situation, firms bear the burden of proof for ensuring the risk management of the chemical substances they utilize. The meaning may be deemed hazardous if they don’t, resulting in a ban. The EU has also established criteria for chemicals that are particularly persistent and bio-accumulative (vPvB). The EU has used this technique to control other chemicals, as seen by the automatic prohibition on carcinogenic, mutagenic, and reprotoxic (CMR) compounds in consumer products.
However, the EU’s recently enacted chemical safety plan, a crucial component of the EU Green Deal, aims to broaden the grouping of chemicals. The European Commission prefers to expand the scope of group standards by proposing groups for other chemicals such as persistent, mobile, and hazardous substances, progressively moving away from the substance-by-substance approach. It also addresses the issue of PFAS, with the European Commission adopting a collective process and prohibiting any non-essential use.
For many countries, the expenses of a substance-by-substance approach are exorbitant, and the frequency of “regrettable replacement” inevitably complicates the regulation process. On the other hand, chemical safety cannot be overstated, given the potential health and environmental effects. Group risk management systems can be an essential instrument for ensuring chemical safety.

This release is articulated by Prittle Prattle News in the form of an authored article.

Video Courtesy: NAHBTV

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