A growing number of companies are using computer technology to predict the health and environmental risks of a chemical at the start of its development thanks to a testing method perfected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The new test method, called the Pollution Prevention Assessment Framework (P2 Framework) helped Eastman Kodak Co. reduce the cost, time and waste of new product development, said John O'Donoghue, director of the company's health and environment laboratories.
"With the P2 Framework, we can screen chemicals and chemical processes early in the new product development process, so we can scan more materials," O'Donoghue said. "This is a key savings for us, because it means we don't put our efforts into materials that have either occupational health or environmental problems."
O'Donoghue estimated P2 has saved Kodak tens of thousands of dollars in development costs.
Another big advantage of using P2 Framework is it helps a company get a head start in EPA's regulatory process. Because the federal agency also uses P2, a company can address the environmental problems that will surface when it submits a new chemical or process for review.
While Kodak has been using P2 Framework for two years, PPG Industries has just begun to use it for developing new chemicals and coating products. Jeff Worden, a PPG spokesperson, said researchers got similar results when they did old-fashioned toxicity testing and compared the data with those derived from P2 Framework.
"That gave us the comfort level we needed," said Worden, adding that P2 is a much better tool than traditional methods. "It tells you which rocks to look under, though it doesn't look under those rocks for you."
Information derived from the framework enables researchers, from the start, to eliminate some chemicals as too dangerous, O'Donoghue said. In other cases, problems that surface demand further investigation and consultation with industrial hygienists to determine if the hazards involved pose surmountable difficulties.
P2 Framework has been 20 years in the making, said Bill Waugh, a toxicologist with EPA and a project manager for P2 Framework. Charged with reviewing 2,500 new chemicals a year without any data, the agency developed computer models that calculate or infer toxicity based on an analysis of a chemical"s structure.
"A couple of years ago, we asked ourselves, 'What if we gave these controls to industry?'" Waugh said. This kind of information ought to help a business get an edge on the competition, he reasoned, while furthering the government's goal of promoting the use of safer chemicals.
All a company interested in P2 Framework has to do is call EPA. "We will give it to any firm that asks for it," Waugh said.