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UMass Lowell's Toxics Use Reduction Institute Five Chemicals Study Reveals Practical Alternatives for Massachusetts Industry and Consumers

Lowell, July 6, 2006--The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell identified safer alternatives to five hazardous chemicals as published in a recent report, the Five Chemicals Alternatives Assessment Study. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts commissioned the Study to carefully consider whether less toxic alternatives were available for lead, formaldehyde, perchloroethylene, hexavalent chromium, and di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP).

The study results are expected to help the dry cleaning, wire and cable, metal finishing, healthcare, cosmetology and other industries make informed choices by presenting the latest emerging data about alternatives.

TURI conducted an alternatives assessment comparing the five chemicals with approximately 100 alternatives within 16 applications. For example, formaldehyde, a known cause of cancer in humans and used by beauty and barber shops as a sanitizer, was compared to two alternatives-Ultra Violet light cabinets and storing implements in a dry, disinfected covered container without formaldehyde.

In every application studied, at least one alternative was identified that was commercially available, was likely to meet the technical requirements of some users, and was likely to have reduced environmental and occupational health and safety impacts.

"The scientific assessment that TURI took on provides all of us-legislators, consumers, and industry--with critical information that will lead us to selecting safer substitutions that makes sense for our individual situations," said Massachusetts Senator Pamela Resor.

TURI selected the uses to be studied based on the importance to Massachusetts industry and consumers, the likely availability of alternatives, and the extent of possible exposures for workers and the general population. The inclusive process included feedback from Massachusetts companies, government, non-government organizations and industry associations.

"The collaborative process accomplished so much more than a report. Because TURI worked with all impacted Massachusetts industries and other stakeholders, we now have a solid platform of research to create academic, industry, and community partnerships in the pursuit of new technological processes for Massachusetts manufacturers," said David Wawer, CEO of the Massachusetts Chemistry & Technology Alliance.

The Five Chemicals Alternatives Assessment Study does not draw conclusions or rank alternatives, yet the information is extensive so that companies and consumers can use it as a basis to assess alternatives for their own particular application.

Executive Summary Five Chemicals Alternatives Assessment Study Executive Summary.Download PDF file (371.96 kB)

©Copyright 2004 Toxics Use Reduction Institute All Rights Reserved

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requested that the Toxics Use Reduction Institute conduct a scientific study to assess safer alternatives for the following five toxic chemicals:

  • Lead
  • Formaldehyde
  • Perchloroethylene (PCE)
  • Hexavalent chromium
  • di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP)

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute evaluated approximately 100 alternatives to the five chemicals within the following applications:

  • Lead used in ammunition, weighting applications and heat stabilizers for PVC wire and cable coatings.
  • Formaldehyde used in beauty/barber drawer sanitizers, school laboratory preserved specimens and adhesives used in wood building panels.
  • Perchloroethylene used in dry cleaning, vapor degreasing and automotive aerosol cleaners.
  • Hexavalent chromium used in decorative chromium electroplating of consumer and automotive products, hard chromium electroplating of industrial components, and passivation of zinc plated parts and zinc galvanized steel.
  • DEHP used in resilient flooring, sheet and tubing applications used in medical devices for neonatal care, and wall coverings.

Companies, government, non-government organizations, and industry associations helped TURI identify the significant uses, both in manufacturing and in products, and prioritize alternatives to be assessed. TURI created an alternatives assessment methodology that was used to consistently evaluate the alternatives for each chemical. Each alternative was assessed relative to environmental and occupational health and safety impacts, technical feasibility and financial feasibility.

Highlights of Results In every application studied, at least one alternative was identified that was commercially available, was likely to meet the technical requirements of some users, and was likely to have reduced environmental and occupational health and safety impacts.

The following examples are possible alternatives for each chemical for a particular application. The full report should be reviewed before pursuing changes so that trade-offs between health impacts, technical performance, and financial feasibility are well understood.

  • Lead used in ammunition for indoor shooting ranges could be replaced with bismuth, copper, iron, tungsten and zinc. Most major ammunition manufacturers now market lead-free bullets. Although the cost for the lead-free bullets is higher, operating costs at firing ranges are likely to be lower.
  • Formaldehyde used for preserving specimens in anatomy classes in secondary schools and colleges could be replaced with a formaldehyde-free solution or video and virtual dissection methods.
  • Perchloroethylene used in dry cleaning could be replaced with several commercially available alternatives including a wet cleaning process appropriate for most types of clothing.
  • Hexavalent chromium used in decorative electroplating of consumer and automotive products could be replaced with trivalent chromium. The more expensive cost is offset by a more efficient process and reduced exposure control and disposal costs.
  • DEHP used in bags and tubing in medical devices for neonates could be replaced with alternative plasticizers and/or materials. Major manufacturers are in the process of introducing new lines of DEHP-free medical devices since many hospital chains are now specifying safer materials in their purchasing contracts.

Known Health Effects of Each Chemical Lead- Acute human health effects of high lead exposures can include gastrointestinal distress, brain and kidney damage, and death. Chronic effects of lead exposure include anemia, damage to the central nervous system, effects on blood pressure and kidney function, and interference with vitamin D metabolism. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified lead as a probable human carcinogen, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified inorganic lead as probably carcinogenic to humans. Fetuses, infants and children are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects from lead exposure, including irreversible neurological damage.

Formaldehyde- Formaldehyde exposure through consumer product use or industrial activity is very hazardous to human health. Formaldehyde is highly irritating, acts as a potent sensitizer, and is known to cause cancer in humans. In 2004 IARC moved formaldehyde from probable human carcinogen to known human carcinogen. Ingestion of formaldehyde or exposure to very high air concentrations can cause death.

Perchloroethylene- Short-term exposure to PCE can cause symptoms such as skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, headache, and nausea. Very high exposure can be fatal. Long term exposure to PCE may cause liver, kidney or central nervous system damage. PCE may also affect the developing fetus. IARC lists PCE as a probable human carcinogen. PCE has been found in breast milk, one indication of its ubiquitous presence in the environment.

Hexavalant Chromium- Short-term effects of hexavalent chromium exposure can include eye and respiratory irritation and sensitization. In large quantities, ingestion of hexavalent chromium compounds can result in acute gastroenteritis, vertigo, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, convulsions, ulcers, kidney damage or failure, and liver damage or failure. Acute skin exposure can cause burns, liver damage or failure, kidney damage or failure, and anemia. Effects of chronic skin exposure include dermatitis, hypersensitivity reactions, eczema, and kidney or liver damage. Hexavalent chromium is classified by IARC as a known human carcinogen.

DEHP- DEHP is classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen. In 2000, IARC changed its classification for DEHP from "possibly carcinogenic to humans" to "cannot be classified as to its carcinogenicity to humans." Animal studies have found that DEHP is toxic to the male reproductive system. When DEHP is metabolized in the human body, it produces compounds that are likely to be reproductive toxicants. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) and has expressed serious concern about reproductive toxicity in male infants who are exposed to DEHP in medical care. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended that health providers consider using alternatives to DEHP-containing medical devices when high-risk procedures are to be performed on male neonates, pregnant women who are carrying male fetuses, and peripubertal males.


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