Step 1: Use databases to quickly assess if the chemicals you use are known hazards.
Several organizations have developed databases to help identify the impacts chemicals have on human health and the environment. These databases are excellent places to start learning more about the potential impacts of chemicals you use or quickly screen out potential alternatives.
- Chemical Hazard Data Commons and toxnot
These free databases screen more than 34,000 chemicals against 60 hazard and warning lists and categorizes which chemicals to avoid. Simple and easy to use, these databases are excellent starting places to begin learning more about the potential impacts of chemicals you use. While they won't tell you if a chemical is safe, you can quickly identify hazardous chemicals that you shouldn't choose as substitutes. The database information is also useful when designing a new product, assessing the chemicals you currently use, and prioritizing chemicals for replacement.
- Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox (ChemHAT)
ChemHAT is a free online chemical database that lists information on hazards. It was designed for workers to get a better understanding of the chemicals that they use in their jobs. It also lists potential alternatives.
- EPA's Safer Chemical Ingredient List (SCIL)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Safer Choice program maintains a list of safer chemical ingredients arranged by functional-use class. Every ingredient on the list has been evaluated for harmful effects to humans and the environment. Chemicals on SCIL represent the safest in their class, and are a good starting point if you're trying to replace harmful chemicals.
Step 2: Look for existing chemical hazard assessments or conduct your own
Chemical hazard assessments provide a framework to collect data from different sources and give each chemical a grade or score. These assessments give users a consistent way to compare one chemical against another.
Find completed assessments
Conducting or commissioning a thorough chemical hazard assessment takes time and can be expensive, so check these sources for free or low-cost completed assessments before conducting your own:
Conduct your own
If you can't find existing information on a chemical you're evaluating, we recommend two chemical hazard assessment methods:
- Quick Chemical Assessment Tool (QCAT)
We developed the QCAT as a simpler, less expensive alternative to conducting a more comprehensive chemical assessment. QCAT is designed to give small and medium-size businesses the ability to identify the problems related to chemicals they use, or to help any chemical user prioritize opportunities for reducing potential hazards.
- GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals
GreenScreen® is a very comprehensive chemical hazard assessment method developed by the nonprofit group Clean Production Action and used by companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Staples, and Nike to drive toward safer chemistries across their product lines.
Step 3: Identify and evaluate alternatives
After you've identified chemicals of concern by screening data or using an existing chemical hazard assessment, you can conduct an alternatives assessment. An alternatives assessment finds and compares possible chemical and non-chemical alternatives that are less likely to harm human health or the environment. This prevents the use of a regrettable substitution — replacing a chemical with one that has worse or unknown toxic effects.
Ecology has developed two primary tools to help with this process:
Additional reference for alternative assessments
- National Academy of Science’s framework
The National Academy of Science recently developed A Framework to Guide Selection of Chemical Alternatives to help interested parties find safer chemical substitutes.