Hot Button Issues: Chemicals Management

by Tracy Swinburn on December 14, 2012

The School of Public Health (SPH) recently published a feature in Findings magazine on ‘hot button issues’ with perspectives from the SPH community.  Several Risk Science Center members and collaborators were featured, and we are grateful to Findings for allowing us to re-post these articles as a five-part series in Risk Sense.

Greg Bond on Chemicals Management:

The Issue: Chemistry is essential to solving some of the world’s biggest public health challenges, among them adequate food and drinking water for a global population that will reach nine billion by 2050. Ninety-five percent of the products we use today—from plastics to pharmaceuticals to electronics—depend on chemistry. So we need to ask, first, is a given chemical product safe to use? If it is, then what is its environmental fate once it reaches the end of its life, and are we managing that responsibly?

The Debate: Many proponents of environmental safety advocate a hazards-only approach to the issue of chemicals management, meaning that when a chemical is identified as hazardous, it should be banned from all manufacturing uses. The chemical industry believes that once a chemical is identified as having hazardous properties, experts should determine whether it can be used safely in certain contexts. If so, its usage should be governed by the Responsible Care Initiative and the Global Product Strategy, two global initiatives aimed at improving product safety and stewardship worldwide. The large multinational chemical companies all subscribe to these initiatives and commonly have standards that go well beyond government regulation, and through the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), they are working with both governments and small and medium-sized companies to implement these standards around the world, particularly in developing nations.

A Way Forward: The best chemicals management is a combination of strong regulation that’s science- and risk-based and is equitably enforced, and a voluntary industry effort that goes above and beyond legally imposed safety requirements. In partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme, ICCA, and environmental advocacy groups working in the public interest, large multinationals such as Dow, Dupont, BASF, and Bayer should continue working with developing nations and with smaller- and medium-sized chemical companies to develop and implement a high level of chemical safety standards worldwide.

—Gregory Bond, Ph.D. ’85, M.P.H. ’79, Loaned Executive to U-M, working on Sustainability Education, Research, and Service; Risk Science Center Member; Corporate Director, Product Responsibility, Dow Chemical Company (1997–2012)

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