What’s Better? Answering the Tough Question of Chemical Safety and Risk
November 29, 2016

Product stewardship is defined as the act of minimizing the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages, while also maximizing economic benefits.1 Elements of product stewardship can either be voluntary or required by law. Product stewardship has traditionally been associated with developing and maintaining compliance with the myriad regulations concerning a company’s products and product lines. In recent years, product stewardship has also been used to meet demands of consumers for “greener” products and increase their brand reputation. In this 3rd part of our technical alert series, we aim to demonstrate how companies are going beyond regulations and why it is important to bring product stewardship practices into the 21st century. This week’s case study highlights how Exponent helped a company create a succinct, informative, and up-to-date chemical prioritization database that accounts for the regulatory updates, safety, and health and environmental factors of their ingredients.

One common challenge that companies face, whether or not they create a typical consumer product, is how to manage their chemical inventory. With ever-changing regulations, it can be difficult to know what will be next in terms of chemical restrictions or even bans. This can be further complicated when relying on third-party vendors and suppliers for different countries. To preempt this, many companies have developed their own system for prioritizing and ranking chemical risk. Having a methodology for ranking chemicals according to hazard and potential exposure means that the current list of chemicals can be prioritized as well as any future chemicals introduced into the inventory. 

In our experience, there is significant variability in the quality of the criteria that can be used to determine whether something is “greener” or “safer.” While some companies employ a systematic methodology to rank chemical hazards, others rely on “greenwashing” tactics to advertise unsubstantiated or meaningless claims. In a project with the oil and gas exploration industry, Exponent worked with the client to rank the risk of their products based on hazard and exposure, which in turn allowed them to identify products or components that may be of concern to human and environmental health. What made this project particularly interesting was that there is no established process to ranking chemical risks in the oil and gas exploration and production industry, requiring a “from scratch” approach. The Chemical Risk Prioritization System (CRPS) was developed to identify chemicals that pose the highest potential risks based on both hazard characteristics and exposure scenarios throughout the exploration and production life cycle. By implementing CRPS, the client was able to efficiently identify a small set of chemicals for which a more detailed risk assessment was warranted. The CRPS helped make this company’s chemical management program consistent and transparent, while also being custom-tailored to their business operations, and allowing them to streamline efforts to focus on a smaller number of chemicals requiring more in-depth analysis.

What We Provide

Exponent’s capabilities within product stewardship include: 

  • Designing and evaluating a product stewardship program, with or without a complete chemical inventory
  • Transitioning processes and corporate goals form regulatory to proactive product stewardship 
  • Developing responsible care initiatives 
  • Preparing and maintaining chemical and supplier databases

[This news alert is part 4 of a 5 part cross-disciplinary series on how green chemistry concepts are put into practice across industries and business sectors.]

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1 http://www.productstewardship.us/?55

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