National Academy of Sciences propose framework on chemical alternatives assessments.

A committee of the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council has released a proposal on decision-making in conducting alternatives assessments. The report, titled A Framework to Guide Selection of Chemical Alternatives and authored by the Committee on the Design and Evaluation of Safer Chemical Substitutions, also presents evaluations of existing frameworks and recommendations for implementation and future research. Suggested audiences and users of the report include regulatory agencies at every level, industry, organizations working for the adoption of safer chemicals, and developers of chemicals and chemical processes.

The recommended framework is 13 steps, with some steps and sub-steps treated as optional, and is designed for flexibility such that “certain steps are completed sequentially, in parallel, or iteratively, providing an opportunity for fit-for-purpose decision making.” The framework is summarized as follows (asterisks indicate optional activities):

  • Step 1: Identify Chemical of Concern
  • Step 2: Scoping and Problem Formulation
  • Step 3: Identify Potential Alternatives
  • Step 4: Initial Screening of Identified Alternatives
  • Step 5: Assess Physicochemical Properties
  • Step 6-1:Assess Human Health Hazards
  • Step 6-2: Assess Ecotoxicity
  • Step 6-3: Conduct Comparative Exposure Assessment
  • Step 7: Integration of Information to Identify Safer Alternatives
  • Step 8: Life Cycle Thinking
  • Step 9-1: Additional Life Cycle Assessment*
  • Step 9-2: Performance assessment*
  • Step 9-3: Economic assessment*
  • Step 10: Integrate Data and Identify Acceptable Alternatives
  • Step 11: Compare Alternatives*
  • Step 12: Implement Alternatives
  • Step 13: Research and Innovation*

The committee highlighted the following as the framework’s most important and unique elements:

  • a focus on scoping and problem formulation;
  • an increased emphasis on comparative exposure assessment;
  • increased use of physicochemical properties to assess human health and ecotoxicity hazards;
  • a two-tiered approach to evaluating chemical alternatives that includes health and ecotoxicity, followed by a consideration of broader impacts; and
  • recognition of the need for research and innovation.