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.