I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

March 25, 2010

The need for information about toxic substances in articles

For consumers to make informed decisions about whether the products we’re buying are safe, we need information about what is in them.  The following report discusses that issue.

Toxic substances in articles: the need for information
This report explores the benefits that can be gained by improving the provision of information on chemicals in articles.

Executive Summary (excerpt)

This report describes the problem of the lack of information on chemicals in articles. It illustrates specific cases where problems caused by chemicals in articles occur in all life cycle stages: manufacturing, use, recycling and disposal. The report explores the benefits that could result from the development of an internationally standardized information system for the chemical contents of articles; the challenges of disseminating such information; and existing models that could inform such a system. While an information system is not a substitute for other policy mechanisms to mitigate the harms from toxic substances in articles, it can be a powerful compliment [sic].

Note: This report was an input to the further development of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), adopted in February 2006, in particular to the objectives on knowledge and information (Objective 15) of its Overarching Policy Strategy and to some of the activities in the Global Plan of Action. The report was presented at an informal international workshop on stakeholders’ information needs on chemicals in articles in Geneva in February 2009.

The report was commissioned by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI), with funding from the Nordic Chemicals Group under the Nordic Council of Ministers. Responsibility for its contents rests with the authors. The authors are Rachel I. Massey and Janet G. Hutchins at the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute, Joel Tickner at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production and Monica Becker, Monica Becker & Associates.

Contents

Understanding the Problem: Case Studies of Toxic Substances in Articles

  • Case Study 1: Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in waterproof  textiles
  • Case study 2: Lead in children’s toys and jewelry
  • Case study 3: Nonylphenol ethoxylates: Water contaminants from textile manufacturing and use
  • Case study 4: Toxic materials in personal computers
    Toxic materials in personal computers include lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, antimony, brominated flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds, and polyvinyl chloride plastic.
  • Implications for policies addressing information on substances in articles

Models for information management

Existing legal requirements for information on substances in articles

  • California: Notification of chronic health effects and Toxics Information Clearinghouse
  • Maine and Washington: Notification of toxics in children’s products
  • Mercury products legislation
  • Restriction on Hazardous Substances: EU and China
  • Management of Information on Chemicals in Articles under REACH
  • Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Voluntary systems

  • Industry-specific systems
  • Corporate Restricted and Preferred Substance Lists
  • Consumer-oriented Databases
  • Voluntary Environmental Performance Labelling (Eco-labels)

The way forward

  • Toward an Internationally Standardized System
  • Scope of the system

Read full report (PDF – 2.28 MB)

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