Environment Health and Safety Issues and Policies

The OECD Environmental Outlook for the Chemicals Industry (2001b), which examined the past and expected economic trends for the chemical industry and its environmental impacts, concluded that while good progress had been made in developing methodologies for (1) generating and collecting data, (2) conducting risk assessments, and (3) making risk management decisions, these methodologies have mainly been developed for and applied to reducing releases of pollutants to the environment that result from manufacturing processes. The Outlook concluded that "Overall, the chemical industry in OECD countries has made significant progress in reducing releases of pollutants to the environment that result from manufacturing processes." However, when it comes to the thousands of chemicals that are sold or used in products today "limited information exists on the volumes released to the environment, the targets of exposure and the toxic properties." As a general rule, the amount of information on the releases that occur during each of these stages of the chemical product lifecycle varies widely. In general, the best information is available for the production stage of a chemical, with less information being available as the chemical works its way through commerce (e.g., as it is transformed into preparations and consumer products).

Historically, most of the management approaches used for controlling emissions during production have dealt with "end-of-pipe" solutions. Recently, governments and industry have been considering more holistic approaches to minimize impacts on health and the environment throughout the lifecycle of a product by designing more environmentally benign chemicals and adopting integrated product policies, including extended producer responsibility.

Considering these past and expected trends, OECD has launched a new initiative, called "Chemical Product Policy" (CPP), to support Member countries and others manage lifecycle environmental risks from chemicals. The first phase of this initiative involved identifying activities that could support each phase in the chemical management process (i.e., data generation/collection, risk assessment, and risk management) for each stage in the chemical product lifecycle (i.e., from production of a chemical through to the use of a final product that contains that chemical - (e.g., an article) - recovery and recycling of the chemical where possible, and eventual disposal of that product).

To learn more about how chemicals in products work their way through commerce, and to what extent chemicals are released to the environment along the way, during the second phase of the project on CPP, OECD will conduct case studies to track, along the supply chain, specific chemicals/products from manufacture to final consumer. This will examine, among other things, the various uses and exposures along the supply chain for a chemical/product. The CPP project is also developing methodologies for estimating such releases by using emission scenario documents (ESDs).

This initiative by OECD and its member countries will bring a new perspective to chemical management that will identify new approaches and build on existing experience to manage chemical risks in a more comprehensive and cost-effective manner.

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