The logical and most effective way to deal with the widespread toxic problem is to eliminate hazardous substances at the source. This means taking a closer look at products and substituting chemicals of high concern with less dangerous chemicals or with new technologies. Substitution is a proven driver for innovation, leading to the development of products that are more effective and no longer based on dubious chemicals and outdated processes.
Which substances should be substituted?
In a society with tens of thousands of chemicals in daily use, which ones should we focus on and find alternatives for? The debate over which chemicals to prioritize has been going on for decades. What we need are reliable and effective instruments to safeguard the future from harm caused by dangerous chemicals. Having the right system in place, including an honest and accurate list of chemicals for the purpose of substitution, is therefore vital for any company striving for more predictability and fewer unpleasant surprises. This is true not only for companies that use chemicals as such, but also for virtually every company that buys and sells products on the market. After all, almost all products contain chemicals in some form.
Obviously, we should first identify the chemicals with the most hazardous properties – and then do everything possible to replace them. Legal requirements have been developing with this approach in mind. In the new EU chemicals regulation, REACH, the concept of substitution is a cornerstone.
What makes a substance a high concern according to REACH?
Within REACH, the EU has decided to define a list of the most hazardous substances. The continued use of these chemicals will only be allowed by obtaining a licence or “Authorisation”. These licences will be limited in time and to defined uses. For identifying these hazardous substances, REACH has developed criteria for Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC). REACH states that an SVHC should have at least one of the following characteristics:
- CMRs: Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or toxic to Reproduction
- PBTs: Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic
- vPvBs: Very Persistent or Very Bioaccumulative
- Substances of equivalent level of concern: These are chemicals that do not necessarily fall into any of the above categories, but have nonetheless proven to cause a similar level of harm to human health or the environment. Hormone disrupting chemicals, so-called endocrine disruptors, are examples from this category.
The SIN List: Identifying the most hazardous substances
Today, a smaller number of substances are listed on the REACH Candidate List, which is just the first step in the Authorisation process. Estimates suggest that there are roughly 2000 known SVHCs currently in use in Europe – so we have a long way to go.
ChemSec, in collaboration with NGOs in Europe and the companies in the ChemSec Business Group, has developed the SIN (Substitute It Now!) List, which highlights substances that has been identified by ChemSec as fulfilling the official REACH criteria of Substances of Very High Concern. Today, many leading international companies use the SIN List as a guide in their substitution work.
Your resource – the SIN database
This resource is a perfect starting point for any company committed to identifying hazardous substances in their products and substituting them with safer substances or alternative technologies.
Finding a suitable substitute
It is one thing to determine what should be phased out, and another to find a substitute that is acceptable from environmental, health and performance perspectives. Choosing an environmentally sound and commercially viable alternative can be a formidable challenge.
It is important to first check a potential substitute do not have any properties that would qualify it as an SVHC. It is also important to remember that new solutions do not always have to involve replacing one substance with a safer substance. Perhaps the desired function or service can be even better achieved by applying alternative techniques, making changes in the manufacturing process or redesigning the product.