Putting toxic chemicals on the map

News 2018 / June

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Putting toxic chemicals on the map

By Duk-chan Yoon Ι CEO, Who’s Good

I was initially skeptical about the global effort to stop climate change as there seemed so many challenges ahead to establish a global consensus. However, after witnessing the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, I realized once an understanding on the gravity of danger we collectively face is established, a global consensus to stop climate change can be formed.

This had led to voluntary participation by nation states and corporates around the globe. The investment community has also taken an active role and green bonds, low-carbon portfolios and engagement to reduce CO2emissions are trending.

In the past decades I conducted many corporate environment, health and safety (EHS) audits. In my role as an auditor I realized that, despite the fact a facility poses the same risk or danger regardless of its location, the EHS criteria thresholds vary from country to country.

“Do we truly understand the danger of chemical substances that have become an integral part of our daily lives?”

This led me to question the current EHS audit practice. Moreover, I began to question whether the threat of chemical substances is fully understood.  To start with, the names of chemical substances are difficult to read. Also it’s not easy to compare whether chemical substances are well managed.

We need a rational, in-depth understanding of the real danger and extent of danger these substances pose. Do we truly understand the danger of chemical substances that have become an integral part of our daily lives? The risks of carbon dioxide make headlines and are now commonly known. But would an ordinary citizen be aware of the risks of a carcinogen like dioxin? This prompted me to wonder whether translating all types of chemical substances and their toxicity into a toxic score – similar to greenhouse gas emissions – could help people without extensive knowledge of chemical substances to understand the risks better.

Taking greenhouse gas emissions as an example, although there are six major greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbon, sulphur hexafluoride and hydrofluorocarbons), we were able to understand greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions better by translating them into global warming potential (GWP) and metric tons of CO2equivalents (CO2eq). This type of scoring system not only helps us to communicate emission reduction goals effectively, but also to hold corporates accountable for reducing CO2 emission. Can the same be replicated in managing chemical substances?

Tackletox: Find the Chemical Substance Emission in Your Hometown!

Rather than focusing on liability, I wanted to provide accurate information on the danger of chemical substances. Toxic chemicals used by companies can pose a threat to everyone living near factories that use or produce them. However, most people do not know if they live near toxic chemicals. We therefore built the web-based service Tackletox to provide information on toxic chemical substances emitted by corporations and display it on a map. Tackletox is free to use and was built to make our world safer from toxic chemicals.

“We built the web-based service Tackletox to provide information on toxic chemical substances emitted by corporations and display it on a map”

Currently, Tackletox provides toxic scores for over 28,000 facilities in both Korea and the US. It provides information on the types and quantities of chemical substances emitted in the last 13 years as well the level of toxicity.  We use the risk-screening environmental indicators (RSEI) methodology used by US EPA. We chose RSEI since it’s verified, easy to use, provides toxic scores for 600 chemicals and covers a large number of chemical substances.

Our analysis is based on the hazard-based results from RSEI. Although the risk-related results are more comprehensive, it is difficult to apply the methodology universally since the risk-related results factor in the conditions and characteristics unique to the local area. As the chemical emission data uses PRTR data, this can be applied not only to EU countries but also to other countries, including Canada, Japan and Mexico.

Once we enhance the visualization tools, we should be able to provide breakdown and comparison of types of chemical substances emitted by country, company and facility. In addition to this, once the SIN List is applied, we expect to be able to communicate our message to industry and to society more clearly.

Corporate Chemical Management Risk and Investment

As my career has expanded from EHS to ESG (environment, social and governance), I have witnessed many companies trying to gain recognition for corporate sustainability. Recently there have been cases where financial firms have divested from industry and companies that rely on fossil fuels. By providing a comparison of the chemical substance risk that companies pose, Tackletox can improve access to information and an understanding of the dangers of toxic chemicals for institutional and individual investors.

This in turn can also incentivize companies to check and manage the risks of toxic chemicals, and help them to manage the toxic chemical risks present in their supply chain. This may be a small step but could lead to the development of a Chemical Disclosure Project, similar to the CDP for climate change, for use by institutional investors.

How to use Tackletox.com

If you search for Los Angeles in the search box, the map of LA appears as seen below. If you click on a neighborhood, you can see the toxic score of a particular business/facility. On the left-hand side, you can check the breakdown of the calculated toxic score. This particular facility has released 300,411 pounds of chemicals into the air and 949,723 pounds of chemicals into the soil, including three major toxic chemical substances according to the toxicity score.

According to RSEI, 1 pound of mercury equals 12,000 points, 1 pound of lead equals 18,000 points. Thus, the toxic score of 174,740,263 is equivalent to releasing 4.4 tons of lead and 6.6 tons of mercury.

Tackletox screenshot

Are you interested in learning more about Tackletox? Check the website tackletox.com or send an email to info@whosgood.org. Thomas Yoon is the founder of the social venture Who’s Good. Using artificial intelligence (AI), Who’s Good provides more reliable and up-to-date information on the ESG performance of companies. Please visit the website, www.whosgood.org for more insights.