Knowledge and transparency is key to safer practices
While some hazardous substances have been phased out through legislation, too little is known about the substances being used to replace them. Regulatory developments lag far behind where progress needs to be. While the chemical industry is fast-moving, with large lobbying resources, regulating chemicals is a slow and complex process.
Over 140 million chemicals are listed in the CAS registry. Another 25,000 new chemicals are added every day. It is estimated that around 350,000 chemicals are in use on the market, but only about one percent have been studied for their impact on humans and the environment. In addition, restrictions are often regional and hazardous substances can continue to be used in countries where they are not yet banned. It’s clear that today’s chemical assessment procedures are not keeping up with the increasing number of chemicals available.
Making safer chemical substitutions is complex in the global IT product supply chain. Product manufacturers rarely have access to the information needed to make proactive choices for safer alternatives. That expertise lies with the chemical manufacturer who treats this as confidential business information. The consequence is that banned substances risk being replaced with similar substances that may pose similar, or even greater risks. The only way to close the data gaps is to assess these substances and share information about their level of hazard, along with information on safer substitutions.
This issue cannot be solved by one organization alone — it’s too complex. To make progress, the IT industry, NGOs, independent experts and other stakeholders must work together. Multi-stakeholder initiatives with diverse viewpoints have the power to be innovative, solutions-oriented and have an industry-wide effect.