When it comes to chemical safety, the most common strategy is to ban chemicals known to be hazardous. Sadly, this is an ineffective method that doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s time to get proactive about chemicals and make sure that only approved substances can be used.

Stephen Fuller
Blog by:
Stephen Fuller

Senior Criteria Manager

The strategy of restricting chemicals has proven itself to be slow and ineffective at safeguarding humans and the environment from hazardous chemicals. Most of the 350,000 chemicals that are in use today are unknown. If, as projected, the chemicals market will double between 2017 and 2030, then another 25,000 will be developed every year. There is no way that legislation can keep up.

When a chemical is banned, it is like saying: “This particular chemical has been assessed to be hazardous and is restricted. Don’t use it but use any other alternative that hasn’t yet been restricted.”

Of course, you have no idea what the hazardous properties of these unknown substances are. There’s a great risk that the banned substance will be replaced with another that is equally harmful, or potentially even worse. As long as it’s not on a restricted substance list, it’s considered safe to use. But the fact that a substance is not restricted only means that it is not known to be hazardous.

Innocent until proven otherwise is definitely the right approach and an important aspect of the juridical system. When it comes to chemicals, it doesn’t work so well.

A much more efficient strategy is to say “this substance is allowed —- everything else is not”. And then make sure that every substance is assessed and approved as a safe enough alternative before it can be used.

Criteria limiting the use of hazardous substances have been part of TCO Certified since 1995. To speed up the pace of change, we decided to turn the table around and started working with an accepted list strategy in 2015.

“Criteria limiting the use of hazardous substances have been part of TCO Certified since 1995.”

What this means in practice is that an independent toxicologist must evaluate and benchmark substances as safer before they can be used in certified products. These approved substances are collected on the public TCO Certified Accepted Substance List.

It also means that substances that haven’t been assessed yet are not ok to use.

And that substances that can’t be assessed properly because the chemical supplier is keeping information secret are not ok to use.

And of course, that substances that have been assessed and found to be unsafe are not ok to use.

Basically it means that every chemical ever developed is considered a hazardous alternative until it’s assessed to be safer.