It shouldn't take a chemical explosion to focus attention on chemical safety. The tragic circumstances surrounding the West, Texas USA fertilizer plant explosion underscore the challenges inherent in chemical management, and the difficulties reducing risk and ensuring safety.
Chemical safety however is about more than safe chemical management. Much has been learned in recent years about chemicals that are “persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic” (PBT) that was simply unknown when most of the original chemical regulations were drafted. Now, with greater knowledge of the aggregate effects of chemicals, many countries are implementing new standards that drive the use of safer chemicals and to reduce exposure to many toxic substances.
In the USA, the aging Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is expected to shortly metamorphose into the Safe Chemicals Act. In Europe, the REACH and CLP regulations that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been rolling out to control hazardous chemicals in the European Union (EU) continues to push for safety chemical use.
While the controls are being placed on organizations that manufacture, import, or (in some cases) use chemicals, a major focus for REACH implementation is on ensuring the safety of downstream users across Europe. This means, for instance, a push to change to non-toxic substitutes for commonly used solvents that can have such a detrimental affect on the environment. According to HCF's Secretary General Hannu Vornamo, "the chemical industry has long been a global one, and resources are wasted all the time on the permit processes etc. required by the different and overlapping regulatory systems of individual countries. Redundant and overlapping information is needlessly produced, and greater convergence would benefit everyone." Thus while the REACH standard is complex, a key goal is to update and streamline chemical management regulation and thus ensure safer chemical use to the benefit of future generations.
The fifth Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF) will be held at the Helsinki Exhibition and Convention Centre from 18-19 June 2013. HCF will consist of five panels covering the following topics: the 2020 goals and the sound international management of chemicals; chemicals in products; regulation of nano-materials; listing of chemicals of concern; and, combination effects. The program this year will include representatives of international chemical industry organizations and authorities from CEFIC, CIEL, the European Commission, OECD, ECHA, Environment Canada, and the American Chemistry Council.