INSIGHT: Aiming for transparency in chemicals control

15 May 2009 17:07  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--The chemical industry seems to be making strides in product stewardship but is the progress being recognised? Many appear to believe that something is being hidden: that a chemicals producer is almost bound to say its products are safe.

Product stewardship often seems such a thankless task but it is not. Companies face increased regulation. The chemicals control scheme Reach applied in the EU makes that much clear. The SAICM (Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management) framework meeting held in Geneva this week highlighted the fact.

The most forward looking companies have devoted not inconsiderable resources to designing product stewardship frameworks. They are also a great deal clearer – as a result of Reach, perhaps – as to what product data they have.

For some, it really is a question of “being ahead of the curve”. Companies recognise that tougher chemicals control is just over the horizon. They also believe they have a duty to employees, their customers and the general public not just to run safe operations but to have a much better picture of what their products do and where they might be found.

Product stewardship issues are tricky and complex; and product stewardship decisions are not necessarily easily made. Globally, the chemicals industry, however, is making progress: applying initiatives such as Responsible Care, the Long Range Research Initiative and the High Production Volume Initiative to broader product stewardship goals.

Lying behind such schemes is the desire for self-regulation. In Europe, Reach is by no means popular. It could be argued that it was introduced because the sector was slow to react to increasing chemicals health, safety and environment concerns.

The central tenet of Reach, however, of “no data, no market” is becoming much more widely accepted. The argument is turning more towards who has access to this information.

The pilot scheme that starts this year, trialling data collection among chemicals SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises) will show whether the industry’s global product strategy (GPS) works. Harmonised product safety assessments should introduce new efficiencies. 

The process, as has been explained this week, is all about screening chemicals to establish which should have a higher priority from a risk standpoint, based on hazard and potential exposure. “It can seem overwhelming,” a Dow Chemical executive said, “so we need to find a way to establish which should be the priority chemicals”.

The industry is demonstrating, at long last, some might say, that it is getting on with it. This is a reflection of some leading players wanting to be ahead of the curve, but also of a much more widespread drive to indentify problem chemicals, and to have as many chemicals producers involved in that process.

All chemicals players would be hurt should there be another major chemicals toxicity scare. But mechanisms should be sophisticated enough by now to avoid such problems.

Yet the ICCM2 conference conclusions: that chemicals in articles, alongside, nanotechnology, lead in paint and electronic waste are internationally areas of concern, highlight the difficulties of achieving a global product stewardship solution.

The chemical industry’s GPS is a vitally important programme that will help demonstrate what can be achieved.

Product stewardship should be core to the way a chemical company conducts its business. Good business practices should apply to the big, the medium and the small.

The GPS will reveal, possibly, that SME’s have a thing or two to teach their larger counterparts. Its application, globally, will highlight differences on which the sector generally can build.

It is just a step, however, along the way to generating greater trust for chemicals among legislators and the general public.

Chemicals are the stuff of life but by no means are they always recognised as such. Chemical companies still have a great deal of explaining – and demonstrating – to do.

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

For the latest chemical news, data and analysis that directly impacts your business sign up for a free trial to ICIS news - the breaking online news service for the global chemical industry.

Get the facts and analysis behind the headlines from our market leading weekly magazine: sign up to a free trial to ICIS Chemical Business.

Printer Friendly

Get access to breaking chemical news as it happens.
ICIS Global Petrochemical Index (IPEX)
ICIS Global Petrochemical Index (IPEX). Download the free tabular data and a chart of the historical index