sustainable solutions

The most important criteria to evaluate a chemical's impact on people, health & safety

Read time: 8 minutes

Working in the chemical industry, we deal with dangerous materials every day. Our role as a distributor is to understand how these chemicals are impacting our people and planet and help our customers select the right chemicals for their needs.

To do this, it’s important to understand a chemical’s technical use and the hazardous labels to ensure the health and safety of its end-users. Read on to uncover the chemical assessments we use in our sustainable product recommendations and why they are important.

Labelling classifications

Understanding the labelling and classifications of a chemical is critical to its use by both workers and the end consumer. The European Union, for example, uses the CLP regulation, short for Classification, Labelling, and Packaging. It ensures the hazards of a chemical are clearly communicated to workers and end consumers. Our experts look at the hazard statements of the products we offer to understand labels like CMR 1, CMR 2, SVHC, ENV Chronic 1, ENV Chronic 2 and ENV Chronic 3/4.

Assessing the labelling classifications provides a clear overview of a chemical and allows critical decisions to be made to protect the health of people and the environment in its use.
ARTICLE BY
Jill Warning

Sustainable Solutions Working Student,

Industrial Solutions

 

EDCs

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are substances that can have fatal health consequences to both humans and wildlife. Under REACH, endocrine disruptors can be identified as substances of high concern as they are known to cause cancer, mutations, and toxicity to reproduction. The aim is to reduce their use and ultimately replace them with safer alternatives.

This is dangerous both for the workers handling the chemicals as well as those who encounter it in its end-use. When our experts make product recommendations, they assess if EDCs are present and advise based on the technical use of the chemical at hand.

PBT/PMT

Persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) and persistent, mobile and toxic (PMT) chemicals create challenges regarding people, health, and safety. Their properties make them extremely hazardous. They contain substances that can live for long periods of time in the environment and have a high potential to accumulate in biota. These are of specific concern because their long-term effects are rarely predictable. Additionally, they can break through filters and withstand water treatment, making it irreversible once it has contaminated a water source. Once they have entered the environment, exposure to these substances is very difficult to reverse, even if emissions are stopped.

That’s why most regulations, like REACH, require users to define and maintain the lifecycle of the chemical at every step of the way. Because water is such an invaluable resource to both our people and the planet, this is a key consideration in chemical selection. Our experts assess if PBT/PMT are present based on the Product´s Safety datasheet.

MAF

A mixture assessment factor (MAF) is used to assess risks of unintended mixtures of chemicals. This aims to ensure that all mixtures prioritise the health and safety of both people and the environment. The basic idea is that the “safe” exposure level of an individual chemical (i.e. the exposure that is not expected to cause any harm) is reduced by an additional uncertainty factor (MAF). The MAF is thus intended to serve as a safety net to account for the overall toxicity of the mixtures that may result from exposure to a chemical along with other known and unknown chemical substances.

As part of the European chemical strategy, the best value for the MAF is still being discussed. We remain informed and are prepared for the introduction of the MAF.

Polymers

People and the environment are widely exposed to polymers every day as they are the main constituents of plastics. Apart from plastics, polymeric substances are present in many other materials, products, and applications, including but not limited to silicones, coatings, paints, detergents, household and personal care products, agricultural fertilizers/ and wastewater treatment, often leading to direct releases into the environment.

Polymers themselves are not inherently toxic, although many of them are made of health-damaging monomers. When they are cut, heated, or exposed to UV rays, they can become toxic and release dangerous byproducts and vapours that could be harmful to people. Nevertheless, there are several high-production volume polymers (such as PS and PVC) that can have negative impacts on human health, including carcinogenic effects, and impact organisms in the environment at levels of medium to high concern. This is why the European Commission believes that there is not enough knowledge about their identity, uses, physical, chemical, and hazardous properties.

At the moment, it is unclear whether polyolefins like PET, PP, PA, and PS need to be registered, as they have a particularly large influence on the pollution of the environment through microplastics and nanoplastics, but hardly cause any health damage. To make matters more complicated, the registration requirement for polyesters is uncertain. Despite this, registration will probably begin the coming years, and we will follow closely so we are prepared to step in.

Overall, these criteria not only open a dialogue around the importance of health and safety considerations, but they also move the needle of sustainable material adoption.

About the author

Jill Warning is a working student for IMCD Industrial Solutions based in Cologne, Germany. Every day, Jill supports IMCD in evaluating products' sustainable criteria to help our customers make more informed decisions about their sustainability journey. Currently getting her master's in chemistry, Jill is well-versed in understanding the key sustainability trends and how they impact our customers every day.
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