In 2022, Minnesota became the first state to ban the use of Trichloroethylene (TCE) for all businesses requiring an air permit. Known as a powerhouse cleaning agent, TCE is also used in other industrial processes and as an ingredient in some consumer products—but its hazards are now well recognized.
MnTAP, in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and funded with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 (U.S. EPA R5), launched the TCE Alternatives Project to help Minnesota businesses make the switch from TCE to effective, safer alternatives.
During the project, the team discovered that businesses needed a third-party perspective on mitigating the risks associated with cleaning solvents and degreasers, and clear information about alternatives. The toolkit is organized into three themed areas, each presented in several formats, including an E-guide, slideshow, video, and infographic.
Negotiators from around the world will convene in Paris next week to continue working on a legally binding global treaty to address the plastics crisis. In this second of five rounds of talks, there will be much to discuss, including basic agenda items like the rules governing the negotiations. But for many who will be attending, one issue seems to have risen to the top of the priority list: toxic chemicals.
Since the first round of negotiations late last year, coalitions representing virtually every United Nations member state in Africa and Europe, as well as a dozen other countries including Canada and Australia, have put out statements calling for the treaty to include mandatory restrictions on chemicals in plastics. Other stakeholders have called attention to chemicals, too, with reports from manyenvironmentalgroupsandacademics highlighting their risks to human health.
The Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA) has written draft model legislation aimed at reducing and eliminating the use of PFAS in products.
The draft legislation offers a “menu of options” for legislators to consider, including a ban on products and packaging with intentionally-added PFAS. Manufacturers could apply for an exemption if they can prove the product has an “unavoidable use,” but they would be required to establish an extended producer responsibility organization to take back the items.
The draft bill contains other recommended provisions meant to label PFAS-containing items, educate the public on PFAS issues and set requirements so downstream operators know manufacturers are complying with regulations. The group is seeking public comment on the draft through June 29.
Consumer products released more than 5,000 tons of chemicals in 2020 inside California homes and workplaces that are known to cause cancer, adversely affect sexual function and fertility in adults or harm developing fetuses, according to our newly published study.
We found that many household products like shampoos, body lotions, cleaners and mothballs release toxic volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into indoor air. In addition, we identified toxic VOCs that are prevalent in products heavily used by workers on the job, such as cleaning fluids, adhesives, paint removers and nail polish. However, gaps in laws that govern ingredient disclosure mean that neither consumers nor workers generally know what is in the products they use.
For this study we analyzed data from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which tracks VOCs released from consumer products in an effort to reduce smog. The agency periodically surveys companies that sell products in California, collecting information on concentrations of VOCs used in everything from hair spray to windshield wiper fluid.
We cross-referenced the most recent data with a list of chemicals identified as carcinogens or reproductive/developmental toxicants under California’s right-to-know law, Proposition 65. This measure, enacted in 1986, requires businesses to notify Californians about significant exposure to chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harms.
We found 33 toxic VOCs present in consumer products. Over 100 consumer products covered by the CARB contain VOCs listed under Prop 65.
Of these, we identified 30 product types and 11 chemicals that we see as high priorities for either reformulation with safer alternatives or regulatory action because of the chemicals’ high toxicity and widespread use.
Why it matters
Our study identifies consumer products containing carcinogens and reproductive and developmental toxicants that are widely used at home and in the workplace. Consumers have limited information about these products’ ingredients.
We also found that people are likely co-exposed to many hazardous chemicals together as mixtures through use of many different products, which often contain many chemicals of health concern. For example, janitors might use a combination of general cleaners, degreasers, detergents and other maintenance products. This could expose them to more than 20 different Prop 65-listed VOCs.
Similarly, people experience aggregate exposures to the same chemical from multiple sources. Methanol, which is listed under Prop 65 for developmental toxicity, was found in 58 product categories. Diethanolamine, a chemical frequently used in products like shampoos that are creamy or foamy, appeared in 40 different product categories. Canada and the European Union prohibit its use in cosmetics because it can react with other ingredients to form chemicals that may cause cancer.
Some chemicals, such as N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone and ethylene gylcol, are listed under Prop 65 because they are reproductive or developmental toxicants. Yet they appeared widely in goods such as personal care products, cleansers and art supplies that are routinely used by children or people who are pregnant.
Our findings could help state and federal agencies strengthen chemical regulations. We identified five chemicals – cumene, 1,3-dichloropropene, diethanolamine, ethylene oxide and styrene – as high-priority targets for risk evaluation and management under the Toxic Substances Control Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
What still isn’t known
Our analysis of the CARB data on volatile toxicants does not paint a complete picture. Many toxic chemicals, such as lead, PFAS and bisphenol A (BPA), don’t have to be reported to the Air Resources Board because they are not volatile, meaning that they don’t readily turn from liquid to gas at room temperature.
In addition, we were not able to identify specific products of concern because the agency aggregates data over whole categories of products.
What other research is being done
Studies have shown that women generally use more cosmetic, personal care and cleaning products than men, so they are likely to be more highly exposed to harmful chemicals in these categories. Further, women working in settings like nail salons may be exposed from products used both personally and professionally.
Ultimately, a right-to-know law like Prop 65 can only go so far in addressing toxics in products. We’ve found in other research that some manufacturers do choose to reformulate their products to avoid Prop 65 chemicals, rather than having to warn customers about toxic ingredients.
But Prop 65 does not ban or restrict any chemicals, and there is no requirement for manufacturers to choose safer substitutes. We believe our new analysis points to the need for national action that ensures consumers and workers alike have safer products.
Engineers have produced fully recyclable printed electronics that replace the use of chemicals with water in the fabrication process. By bypassing the need for hazardous chemicals, the demonstration points down a path industry could follow to reduce its environmental footprint and human health risks.
The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) recently hosted the webinar MnTAP, Metals, and You, which offered strategies and best practices to help reduce wastes, improve processes, and cut costs in metal fabrication and finishing operations.
The webinar is part of an EPA-funded project to identify pollution prevention priorities for the metal fabrication and metal finishing industries. These priorities were identified through informational interviews with practitioners, vendors, and other industry stakeholders. Their report Pollution Prevention Opportunities in Minnesota’s Precision Manufacturing Sector summarizes the results of these interviews and highlights opportunities for pollution prevention technical assistance.
Recently I took part in a one-day roundtable to advance ‘Sustainable Chemistry in RD&D to Transform the Chemicals Industry.’ The focus was how to advance research, development and demonstration of sustainable chemistry and how the Department of Energy could play a role. This one-day event, held March 7, 2023 in Washington DC, was co-hosted by the Dept of Energy/Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office and the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council.
I was asked to open this panel by addressing why environmental justice (EJ) is a critical component of safe and sustainable chemistry. The audience included executives of chemical industry start-ups and Department of Energy program officers. Were people in the room familiar with the term ‘environmental justice’ and the history of impacted communities? How much was chemical toxicity a focus among Department of Energy policy makers? Not knowing the answers, I presented the following five points.
Despite the arguments made by some in business, it is possible to reduce the use of toxics and still grow a company. Moreover, most regulations in America are introduced gradually and companies often have years to fully comply with new environmental rules.
In the pursuit of eco-friendly and cost-effective commercialization of perovskite solar cells (PSCs), efforts have been made to develop recycling technologies. However, most current methods use toxic solvents that can potentially harm human health and the environment. Here, we introduce a novel approach that recovers and reuses toxic solvents used in the recycling process. Detailed evaluations were conducted to assess the effects of residual substances in PSC-dissolved solvents, and a two-step selective dissolution process was utilized for effective solvent recycling. PSCs were immersed in chlorobenzene and N,N′-dimethylformamide solvents in sequence, and each solvent was recovered for reuse in the re-fabrication of PSCs. Our results demonstrate the feasibility of a toxic solvent recycling process for PSC re-fabrication, which achieved a power conversion efficiency of 25.02%, comparable to that of the original PSCs (25.12%), as well as recycling of the dissolved hole conducting materials.
In this workshop we will hear from Sustainability Staff at 3 Universities who recently published Strategic Visions for Achieving Zero Waste on their campuses.
Developing a Strategic Vision is a campus-wide process of Stakeholder Engagement via intentionally facilitated sessions. First, 20-35 stakeholders are identified (heads of departments, staff who manage programs, frontline workers, student and faculty representatives, etc) and are invited to participate in a series of Visioning Sessions. These visioning sessions are structured to encourage stakeholders to think about long-term solutions and identify areas where strategic investment is needed outside of departmental silos. For example: Do we need a new physical space to manage surplus property? A digital asset management system? A new dishwasher? A facility to manage compost? More staff? Better bins and signage? Etc.
We specifically refer to this process as “strategic visioning” as opposed to “strategic planning” because most campuses aren’t ready for the planning stage yet. To truly address systematic problems in sustainable materials management, we need to bring all stakeholders together around a shared vision that may require a reshuffle of departmentally siloed program responsibilities, or a goal of developing new infrastructure, policies, and systems that don’t currently exist.
During this session we will hear from Campus Sustainability Staff who managed this process in partnership with the Post-Landfill Action Network’s (PLAN’s) Atlas Zero Waste Program. PLAN works with campuses to hire student fellows, who are trained to coordinate stakeholder engagement, schedule visioning sessions, co-facilitate the visioning process, and produce the campus-wide strategic vision for achieving zero waste.
Panelists will reflect on the experience and the outcomes of this process, the benefits of working with and training students to take a leadership role in this effort, as well as the challenges of coordinating and engaging with a wide variety of stakeholders who hold different opinions and ideas for long-term solutions.
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