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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.

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Downstream Users Change the Course of Chemicals Production

By Mark Rossi, PhD

This essay is in response to: How can innovations in technology and research reduce exposures to toxic chemicals?

Downstream from chemical manufacturers is the vast part of our economy that uses chemicals by virtue of the products they purchase. They range from formulators to component producers to manufacturers to retailers to health care institutions to individual consumers. These are the “downstream users” that are changing the course of chemicals production.

Increasingly downstream users want to know the chemicals in their products, the human and environmental health hazards of those chemicals and whether safer alternatives are available to chemicals of high concern. In 2008, business and non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders created a visionary roadmap to implementing a safer chemicals agenda: the BizNGO Guiding Principles for Chemicals Policy. The four BizNGO principles are:

  1. Know and disclose chemical ingredients in products.
  2. Assess and avoid hazards.
  3. Commit to continuous improvement.
  4. Support public policies and industry standards that advance the first three principles.

Over 40 organizations have endorsed the Guiding Principles, including Catholic Healthcare West, Hewlett-Packard, Kaiser Permanente, Premier and Staples. In 2010, the following five downstream users released organizational profiles highlighting how they are implementing the Guiding Principles.

Each of the these organizations is translating its internal chemical management practices into support for government chemicals policy initiatives. Catholic Healthcare West, for example, supports:

  • Creating a minimum data set of all chemicals in commerce within the next five years.
  • Taking immediate action to reduce the use of PBTs (persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals) and other chemicals of high concern.
  • Ensuring that new chemicals only come to market after full safety determinations.
  • Promoting safer alternatives.

As Bob Sussman, Senior Policy Counsel to the U.S. EPA told attendees at the Business and NGO Forum for Safer Chemicals Policy Reform,  “Downstream users play an important role in the government’s efforts to revise its policies related to chemical safety…. You occupy a unique position at the end of the value chain, where the rubber meets the road. Your voice is critical. We want to encourage you to stay in the game and to help shape the end product”.

By designing and purchasing products that use safer chemicals, as well as by supporting government initiatives that will disseminate best chemical management practices across the entire economy downstream users are making a difference in our chemical economy.

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