The transition to safer workplace chemicals requires both regulatory muscle and adequate resources says a new study of Europe’s model chemical regulation system.
, commissioned by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), was prepared by Joel Tickner and Molly Jacobs of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
The European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals or REACH
program, was set up to address a prevailing policy failure which allows tens of thousands of chemicals to be used without adequate knowledge about their environmental or human health effects. The program subjects substances of very high concern to authorization, including an analysis of safer alternatives. In force since 2006, companies in Europe and North America have phased out certain chemicals replacing them with safer substitutes and/or cleaner technologies.
European Member States and industries surveyed for the report cited regulation as a critical driver of chemical substitution and noted among its benefits improved worker safety and worker satisfaction, enhanced brand reputation and decreased regulatory and chemicals management costs. Despite this the report authors find, “Nonetheless, regulatory requirements alone may be insufficient to ensure that effective substitution occurs, particularly for smaller firms with limited technical expertise and resources. It is important that government authorities supplement the regulatory drivers with capacity building and the facilitation of resources (technical and financial) to substitute.”
The report recommends funding to create a dedicated group within ECHA to support chemical substitution efforts, greater coordination and collaboration among Member states, support for companies to build internal technical capacity and expanded government “green” procurement incentives.
Toxics use, reporting and reduction—closer to home
Regulatory intervention is less prevalent in North America but Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA
) is one exception. It requires large chemical users to report and carry out toxics reduction planning. Fees paid by reporting companies support several government agencies including the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI).
With public funds, TURI conducts critical work including coordinating a single point of access for online chemical substitution tools.
analyzing twenty years of TURA- reported data from Massachusetts companies found carcinogen use declined 32 per cent and releases into the environment dropped by 93 per cent.
Ontario’s Toxics Reduction Act
requires certain businesses to track and quantify the toxic substances they use and create. They must also develop toxics reduction plans and make summaries of their plans available to the public but implementation of the plans are not mandatory.
Also unique in North America, Toronto’s Environmental Reporting and Disclosure Bylaw requires certain businesses to annually report their manufacture, use and release of 25 priority chemical substances that are a concern for public health. Toronto’s ChemTRAC
program is designed to protect public health and stimulate the greening of local businesses by tracking and reducing toxic chemicals.
These approaches, based upon primary prevention, could form the foundation for a much-needed comprehensive occupational disease strategy for Ontario. According to the Occupational Cancer Research Centre
, occupational cancer accounts for a majority of accepted work-related fatality claims in Ontario and Canada.
The WHSC offers a number of training programs
to help workplaces better understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards, including toxic substances. Many of these same programs offer essential insight into the tools and information needed to identify and control or eliminate harmful workplace toxins.
WHSC helps with new WHMIS training requirements
Web-based resources highlight harmful chemicals and safer alternatives
Environmental & Occupational Working Group - Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition
To learn more:
Call: 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative