AIHce: The Industrial Hygienist’s Role in Green Chemistry and Chemical Reform

Keynote speaker Michael P. Wilson, Ph.D., told attendees at the May 17 AIHce opening session that while they might be unsure how green chemistry relates to their profession, it is nonetheless “immediately applicable to the practice of industrial hygiene” by encouraging safer engineering, design and chemistry.

Wilson, the associate director for integrative sciences of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, stressed during his keynote presentation that industrial hygienists have an important role to play – that of encouraging chemical reform in the United States.

“I worry, particularly as I read the history of occupational health and safety in the United States, that we are going to be back here in 10-15 years saying the same things we’re saying today,” Wilson stated. “I’m worried this community will have struggled mightily to prevent some occupational injuries and diseases but the problems will largely be with us.”

To create a different trajectory, Wilson said the industrial hygiene community must do two things: Identify a root problem that is the cause of occupational diseases and injuries and to join with others to tackle the problem.

TSCA Reform

One movement Wilson highlighted for focusing on a root-cause problem is the effort to reform the 35-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which allows chemicals to be considered innocent until proven unsafe.

Green chemistry, Wilson said, entails designing and innovating safer chemicals and products. By designing out the hazards, the nation can maintain a robust chemical industry with global leadership, innovation and accountability and proactive action.

“I would argue that as a profession, this community has an opportunity and a deep interest in engaging in the TSCA reform movement. The problem of toxic substances in the workplace will never be resolved until it is in the competitive interest of companies to do so,” Wilson explained.

TSCA reform, he argued, could protect worker health and benefits the people handling these chemicals and products. The fact that the 27 European Union (EU) nations have instituted the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals) regulation, the world’s first comprehensive chemical policy that requires hazard and exposure information on chemicals sold in the EU on the basis of volume, could help pave the way for U.S. chemical reform.

“Helping TSCA reform is an unprecedented opportunity for this community that’s not going to come around again in the coming decades,” Wilson told AIHce attendees.

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