Study: Hazardous Chemicals Carry a Higher Price than Alternatives

Safer, cheaper, alternatives to hazardous chemicals now could give employers an incentive to keep harmful substances away from their employees and their workplace environment.

A study published by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts demonstrates that there are less costly and nontoxic alternatives to five heavily used hazardous chemicals lead, formaldehyde, perchloroethylene, hexavalent chromium and di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP). The chemicals are widely used in the dry-cleaning, wire and cable, metal finishing, healthcare, cosmetology and other industries.

TURI conducted an alternatives assessment comparing the five chemicals with approximately 100 alternatives within 16 applications. For example, formaldehyde, a known cause of cancer in humans and used by beauty and barber shops as a sanitizer, was compared to two alternatives ultra violet light cabinets and storing implements in a dry, disinfected, covered container without formaldehyde.

In every application studied, at least one alternative was identified that was commercially available, was likely to meet the technical requirements of some users and was likely to have reduced environmental and occupational health and safety impacts.

"The scientific assessment that TURI took on provides all of us legislators, consumers and industry with critical information that will lead us to selecting safer substitutions that makes sense for our individual situations," said Massachusetts state Senator Pamela Resor.

Study Supports Massachusetts Bill

The study was commissioned by the Commonwealth of Masschussetts, and was released as legislation that would require mercury to be phased out of consumer products is in the process of being considered. According to the Respor, the bill would "reduce exposure to both the workers in industrial plants as well as to the general population."

"An Act for a Healthy Massachusetts: Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals," co-sponsored by Sen. Steven Tolman and Rep. Jay Kaufman, would encourage companies to use safer alternatives to toxic chemicals whenever alternatives are available and feasible, and stimulate research on new technologies.

The bill stipulates that exposure to toxic substances could lead to several chronic diseases, such as asthma, autism, birth defects and cancers.

Using the study as evidence, proponents of the bill are now hopeful that it will be passed, despite heavy opposition from some members of industry, who claim there are no safer alternatives to some of the chemicals.

Not all representatives from industry oppose the bill. "The collaborative process accomplished so much more than a report. Because TURI worked with all impacted Massachusetts industries and other stakeholders, we now have a solid platform of research to create academic, industry and community partnerships in the pursuit of new technological processes for Massachusetts manufacturers," said David Wawer, CEO of the Massachusetts Chemistry & Technology Alliance.

Instead of banning chemicals immediately, the legislation requires the state's Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether some or all uses of these chemicals could be replaced with "feasible" alternatives. That process would be followed by prohibitions of chemicals, but not necessarily for all uses.

According to TURI, the Five Chemicals Alternatives Assessment Study does not draw conclusions or rank alternatives, yet the information is extensive so that companies and consumers can use it as a basis to assess alternatives for their own particular application.

For a look at the full report, visit the institute's Web site at www.turi.org/content/content/download/3180/29224/file/TURI%205%20Chemicals%20Executive%20Summary.pdf. For more articles about chemical safety, visit www.occupationalhazards.com/safety_zones/29.

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