You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Chemicals without Harm

Chemicals without Harm: Policies for a Sustainable World

Ken Geiser
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 456
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Chemicals without Harm
    Book Description:

    Today, there are thousands of synthetic chemicals used to make our clothing, cosmetics, household products, electronic devices, even our children's toys. Many of these chemicals help us live longer and more comfortable lives, but some of these highly useful chemicals are also persistent, toxic, and dangerous to our health and the environment. For fifty years, the conventional approach to hazardous chemicals has focused on regulation, barriers, and protection. InChemicals without Harm, Ken Geiser proposes a different strategy, based on developing and adopting safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals rather than focusing exclusively on controlling them. Geiser reviews past government policies focused on controlling chemicals, describes government initiatives outside the United States that have begun to implement a more sustainable chemical policy, and offers an overview of the chemicals industry and market. He develops a safer chemicals policy framework that includes processes for characterizing, classifying, and prioritizing chemicals; generating and using new chemical information; and promoting transitions to safer chemicals. The shift in strategy described by Geiser will require broad changes in science, the chemicals economy, and government policy. Geiser shows that it is already beginning, identifying an emerging movement of scientists, corporate managers, environmental activists, and government leaders who are fashioning a new, twenty-first-century approach to chemicals.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32701-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Environmental Science
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 The Problem with Chemicals (pp. 1-14)

    Dr. John Warner sits in a light-filled office in a nondescript suburban office park north of Boston. He will tell you that 60 percent of the chemicals on the market today are dangerous and have no safer alternative as a substitute.

    John is a chemist and one of the guiding lights of a dynamic international movement among chemists called green chemistry. He and his colleagues are challenging the fundamental way that chemists are trained and conduct their research. For John, it is not enough for a chemist to know organic and inorganic chemistry, chemical synthesis, and chemical process control. Green...

  5. I Chemical Control Policies
    • 2 Regulating Hazardous Chemicals (pp. 17-36)

      The U.S. approach to managing toxic and hazardous chemicals relies heavily on government regulations and the judicial imposition of liability. The regulatory response to chemical management ranges from laws protecting the air, water, and ecosystems from the release of hazardous chemicals to laws protecting public health, such as those that regulate chemical exposures at work and in the marketplace. These are subject protection policies—they are intended to protect against the risks of chemical hazards. However, some laws focus more directly on chemicals and regulate their manufacture and use. These are the so-called chemical control policies.

      Subject protection policies typically...

    • 3 Reassessing Chemical Control Policies (pp. 37-58)

      In 2005, the Center for Environmental Health, a California-based environmental organization, found lead in the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic of several school lunch boxes that it had tested. The resulting news stories and public concern led several states—including New York and Connecticut—to issue recalls for the soft, insulated plastic lunch boxes made from PVC. The issue was fairly straightforward. The science on the adverse neurological and reproductive effects of lead is overwhelming. Efforts to regulate lead and prohibit its use are legion. However, the federal government was slow to act because of the complexity of its statutes. Lead...

  6. II Reframing Chemical Policies
    • 4 Considering New Initiatives (pp. 61-82)

      During the 1970s, the United States was an international pace setter in environmental policymaking. Environmental leaders throughout the world closely followed the policy initiatives crafted in Washington and drew on those early statutes as precedents for environmental policy laws in their own countries. That inspired leadership in setting environmental policy vanished in the decades that followed.

      Today, the European Union and the international treaties of the United Nations are setting the standards for environmental policy innovation. Since 2000, the European Union has embarked on an ambitious series of environmental policies ranging from energy efficiency and climate protection to integrated pollution...

    • 5 Reframing the Chemicals Problem (pp. 83-104)

      An old adage holds that solutions too often fail, not because they are not good solutions, but because they are addressing the wrong problem. To this point, we have largely reviewed the various solutions that have been put forward during the twentieth century for addressing the risks of hazardous chemicals. We have not considered with equal scrutiny the nature of the problem that these solutions were trying to solve. Before we move on to look for new solutions, we will consider more carefully “the chemicals problem” as it has been framed and how it could be reframed more effectively.¹


    • 6 Understanding the Chemical Economy (pp. 105-126)

      If you visit the Shell Chemicals petrochemical plant in Norco, Louisiana, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed (figure 6.1). The plant extends over a mile along the Mississippi River. It appears as a gigantic plumber’s toy with pipes running over and under each other and a forest of exhaust stacks pointing a hundred feet into the air. There is an eight-foot-high chain link fence that extends the length of the facility. This is a highly productive facility with both an ethylene furnace and a petroleum refinery on site allowing for significant economies of scale. The plant was expanded once...

  7. III A Chemical Conversion Strategy
    • 7 Driving the Chemical Market (pp. 129-154)

      If you shop for hair shampoo you know there are scores of products on the shelves. There are products made for oily hair and products made for aging hair; there are products for fighting dandruff and products that are gluten-free; there are products offering herbal fragrances and products with no fragrance at all. However, a careful reading of the labels will tell you little about the ingredients that make up the shampoo. Some products will be labeled as composed of “natural ingredients,” some will claim to be “organic,” and others will claim to be free of toxic chemicals and good...

    • 8 Transforming the Chemical Industry (pp. 155-180)

      In 1997, theNew York Timesexposed dismal working conditions and low wages in the Nike Corporation’s Asian-based network of suppliers. As word of the conditions at these so-called “sweatshops” spread, labor and student activist groups organized protests at Nike retail stores around the country. Less well known in the United States was a scandal over organotins found in the dyes of the Nike sports shirts worn by the German national soccer team that ignited a European consumer boycott of Nike products. Footwear and apparel makers that succeed on the basis of fashion are among the most sensitive manufacturers to...

    • 9 Designing Greener Chemistry (pp. 181-200)

      Chelating agents are chemicals used in detergents, fertilizers, and household and industrial cleaners. Most applications involve dispersive uses that release the chemicals to the environment; however, conventional chelating agents are usually persistent and poorly degradable in the environment. Recognizing this, the Bayer Corporation developed a more environmentally friendly and biodegradable chelating agent incorporating sodium iminodisuccinate. Sodium iminiodisuccinate is a sodium salt that functions effectively in chelating iron, copper, and calcium, and it is both biodegradable and relatively benign in terms of its human and ecotoxicological characteristics. The development of this new agent demonstrates an innovation in chemical design. Instead of...

  8. IV Safer Chemical Policies
    • 10 Characterizing and Prioritizing Chemicals (pp. 203-224)

      In 1979, the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT) released findings showing that formaldehyde caused cancer in rats. The EPA convened a federal panel on formaldehyde that reported in 1980 with findings similar to the CIIT as did similar studies by the National Toxicology Program. On this basis, the agency determined that there “may be a reasonable basis to conclude that formaldehyde poses a significant cancer risk” and proceeded to prepare a priority review for regulatory action. However, the Formaldehyde Institute challenged the findings, and in 1982, a new EPA administrator halted the process and initiated a risk assessment.¹


    • 11 Generating Chemical Information (pp. 225-246)

      Let’s start with a chemical such as tert-butyl acetate (TBAC). TBAC is a solvent with potentially wide commercial applications. However, little is known about the hazards of this chemical. TBAC has not been tested for carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or other chronic health effects, and its eco-toxicity has not been determined. It decomposes in water, but its decomposition products have not been identified or tested. In 2004 the EPA exempted TBAC from its volatile organic chemical (VOC) regulations because of its low volatility. In 2009, the California Air Resources Board followed the EPA in exempting TBAC in several applications, and TBAC...

    • 12 Substituting Safer Chemicals (pp. 247-270)

      The STD Gear and Instrument Company of West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, is a 30-year-old manufacturer of high-performance gears and mechanical transmission components. For years the company cleaned oils from its metal products in dip tanks of trichloroethylene (TCE), an inexpensive and effective cleaning and degreasing agent. During the 1930s, TCE replaced the flammable petroleum distillates commonly used in metal parts degreasing, but in the 1950s, concern over the toxicity of TCE led many shops to switch to trichloroethane (TCA). When the production of TCA was phased out during the 1990s under the Montreal Protocol, STD Gear and many other metal component...

    • 13 Developing Safer Alternatives (pp. 271-290)

      After Hurricane Katrina stuck New Orleans in 2005, thousands of the city’s residents were left homeless. The Federal Emergency Management Agency brought in hundreds of trailers to provide temporary accommodations. Months after the trailers had been occupied, the Sierra Club released a study that showed exceptionally high concentrations of formaldehyde in the trailer’s indoor air. The investigation that followed found that the source of the formaldehyde was off-gassing from the mastic used in the trailer’s interior plywood panels.

      This should not have been a surprise; formaldehyde-based glues are common in plywood panels. During the production of plywood panels, the wood...

    • 14 Drafting Safer Chemical Policies (pp. 291-312)

      Agenda 21,the blueprint adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, crafted a policy for toxic chemicals in chapter 19:

      Adopt policies and regulatory and non-regulatory measures to identify and minimize exposures to toxic chemicals, by replacing them with less toxic substances and ultimately phasing out the chemicals that pose unreasonable and otherwise unmanageable risks to human health and the environment and those that are toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative and whose use cannot be adequately controlled.¹

      This policy set the stage for the development of the United Nations Environment Program’s Strategy for the Sound Management of...

  9. V Chemicals without Harm
    • 15 Reconstructing Government Capacity (pp. 315-338)

      When the European Union negotiated the REACH Regulation, it not only created new roles and responsibilities for industry and the governments of the Member States, it also created a new chemical agency. Located in Helsinki, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has primary responsibility for the implementation of REACH. While the Director General for Environment, located in Brussels, retains authority for major policy issues, ECHA receives and evaluates the individual chemical registrations under REACH and proposes substances of very high concern for authorization. However, since its creation, ECHA’s role has been steadily growing. The agency, today, addresses a broad range of...

    • 16 Solving the Chemicals Problem (pp. 339-354)

      The scale of changes envisioned here is significant. Converting the chemical market, restructuring the chemical industry, redesigning the practice of chemistry, and reforming government laws, policies, and agencies—none of these can be accomplished without enormous effort.

      The current chemical control policies are insufficient and too often ineffective. New approaches to chemical management are needed in the United States because a large body of science has documented the harmful potential of too many chemicals on the current chemical market; because biomonitoring studies now reveal how many of these chemicals are present in human bodies; and because the science of chemistry...

  10. Notes (pp. 355-396)
  11. Bibliography (pp. 397-430)
  12. Index (pp. 431-440)
  13. Backmatter (pp. 441-444)