On February 24, 2016 the non-profit organization International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec) published a commentary to their recent report on the added benefits of chemical substitution (FPF reported). ChemSec takes another look at the “old” hazard vs. risk debate dealing with whether we should regulate and manage hazardous chemicals based on their intrinsic properties to cause harm (hazard-based approach) or their probability to actually do any harm (i.e. explicitly incorporating the exposure component of the risk assessment paradigm, where risk = hazard x exposure). In other words, if a chemical is found to be of a certain hazard, should we restrict it right away, or attempt to manage the risk by limiting the exposure?
Although the risk-based approach offers certain advantages, especially when non-hazardous substitutes for a given compound are not (yet) available, the hazard-based approach should be the default, ChemSec argues. Exposure assessment is a daunting task that, due to many variables at different levels, in many cases “simply adds to the uncertainty,” failing to provide a reliable evidence that risks can be properly managed.
ChemSec recommends companies to be proactive and take a hazard-based approach to their chemicals management. That is, the companies should strive to substitute hazardous substances where already possible, and invest more into research and development for finding safer alternatives where necessary. According to ChemSec, investments in substitution will pay-off in the longer range, and benefit not only the company and its clients, but also society as a whole.
ChemSec (February 24, 2016). “Hazard vs. Risk – What is best practice when assessing chemicals?”
ChemSec (February 23, 2016). “The bigger picture – Assessing economic aspects of chemicals substitution.” (pdf)