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Safer Chemical Alternatives: Case Studies and Examples
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Action
Identifying Chemical Hazards - Labeling Systems
Related Efforts, Tools, and Resources
Case Studies and Examples
Where to Go for Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

An Abbreviated Alternatives Assessment Process for Product Designers
A crib manufacturer assessed alternatives to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in their baby crib line, by ev...

Five Chemicals Study (Executive Summary)
Report of research on 5 hazardous chemicals, prioritization of their use, prioritization of alternat...

Use of DecaBDE Flame Retardants in Plastic Shipping Pallets: Assessing Safer Alternatives
Maine DEP sponsored a study assessing the availability of safer alternatives to the use of decaBDE i...

Wire and Cable Applications: Alternatives
TURI and GC3 are working to evaluate safe alternatives to phthalates in wire and cable applications....

These case studies are divided into sections, one containing examples conducted by an individual company. The second and third set of case studies provides examples of alternatives assessments conducted on a specific chemical or product, not necessarily specific to one company, and often involving multiple stakeholders.

Each summary of a case study provides an abbreviated account of the issue and story, the results of the assessment, and any assessment methodologies used.

Case Studies and Examples from Individual Companies or Organizations

Steel Cleaning (From Handbook for Critical Cleaning, Second Edition, 2011)

Story: A company that makes machining tools out of steel, must clean their parts after the production process. The company wanted to replace an ineffective solvent and an aqueous product, reduce process times, and reduce the number of different cleaning chemicals. Initially, they used the CleanerSolutions to identify potential replacements, and considered the safety screening rating of products listed. (The CleanerSolutions database assigns a safety score based on volatile organic compound (VOC) levels, and various human, physical, and environmental hazard endpoints.

Upon selecting a set of ten products, they conducted temperature and concentration studies, mechanical energy studies, and actual product cleaning studies. They narrowed the product selection down to two, which cleaned acceptably, and had acceptable safety screening scores.

Results: Every effort was made by the company to find one cleaning product that would work for multiple contaminants used in their facility. The company changed 80% of their cleaning operations to the new product, (an alkaline aqueous based product with a mix of alkali and wetting agents, called BCS Green Soak). They use spray wash units and an ultrasonic cleaning tank to remove buffing compound. They found the product worked better and faster than their previous cleaner for most uses. This product was not usable for about 20% of the blank line (after iron shot processing) which still uses the previous cleaning process.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s (TURI) Cleaner Solutions database, and TURI’s P2OASys Pollution Prevention Options Assessment System (P2OASys).

Aluminum Cleaning (From Handbook for Critical Cleaning, Second Edition, 2011)

Story: An aluminum anodizing job shop was having trouble with VOC emissions and had concerns for its worker safety. They were moving their operation to another building and wanted to address these concerns before the move. They wanted to replace Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) in the company’s lacquer removal process, which consumes 2.5 tons on an annual basis. Workers used pre-moistened swabs for the wipe application and multiple five gallon buckets for the immersion operation. CleanerSolutions was used to identify fifteen potential replacement cleaners.

In extensive testing, including trials using borrowed ultrasonic cleaners, they narrowed the selections down to three products. The safety screening values of the two alternative cleaning products were shown to be a potential hazard improvement over MEK, and importantly, had a lower flammability rating than MEK. The expanded environmental, health & safety assessment conducted in P2OASys and product testing found an alternative with a safer profile. It is an ester-based solvent called Shopmaster RC.

Results: With continued on-site testing, worker evaluation and input, and purchase of an ultrasonic cleaner, the company has proven that this product was a viable replacement for MEK. The company reduced employee exposure to MEK, and the current product has a lower health and flammability rating in the HMIS system.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s (TURI) Cleaner Solutions database, and TURI’s P2OASys Pollution Prevention Options Assessment System (P2OASys).

Alpha Gary Reduces Use of Lead

Story: AlphaGary manufactures specialty PVC, halogen-free compounds, and plastic compounds for end uses such as wire and cable, automotive, consumer goods, packaging, and other applications. In 1998, AlphaGary initiated a Lead Reduction Pilot Program and evaluated the use of alternatives to lead compounds in their products; this initiative involved toxic use reduction methods and strategies involving R&D, Purchasing, Marketing, Sales, Engineering, Quality, Maintenance, Production, and various suppliers.

Results: They successfully incorporated alternatives into their design process and reduced lead time. Six years after launching the program, AlphaGary experienced a 30% reduction in the use of lead and lead compounds, as well as reducing cadmium compounds and other heavy metals. Moreover, the company increased their overall manufacturing efficiency while decreasing costs of developing and qualifying new products.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Internal collaboration and toxic use reduction methods involving different departments within the company, as well as suppliers.

Canyon Creek Cabinet Company Replaces Coating Product

Story: During a lean and environment project at Canyon Creek Cabinet Company (Monroe, WA), the lean and environment participants identified a concern that the company was pushing up against having to apply for a Clean Air Act Title V air permit due to the high amount of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from use of their sealant and topcoat finish product. The team worked with their supplier to identify an alternative product that seals and finishes in one step. Further, the product contained about one-third of the amount of VOCs as their original products. They conducted a cost-benefit analysis and vendor testing for functionality and determined the product was functionally acceptable.

Results: By identifying alternatives, testing, and replacing their previous topcoat product, Canyon Creek reduced VOC emissions enough to allow a 70% increase in production capacity before having to apply for the Title V permit. They also reduced worker exposure to VOCs.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Lean and Environment Assessment Tools including a focus on chemical use.

Lightolier Elimination of Trichlorethylene and Reduction of VOC Emissions

Story: Lightolier is a national company that fabricates aluminum reflectors for their track and recessed lighting product lines and has been working to reduce toxic use since the late 1980’s. Lightolier’s alternatives assessment considered some substitute materials, but concluded with the decision to change processes to increase efficiency of use of TCE, rather than finding an alternative chemical. They accomplished the TCE reductions by removing two vapor degreasers, installing still rinse tanks, implementing countercurrent rising, and increasing drip time to reduce acid discharges.

Results: Lightolier saved an estimated $170,000 and reduced TCE use by 1.25 million pounds, and VOC emissions by 113,000 pounds per year. Moreover, Lightolier reduced the costs of air flow maintenance and air compliance efforts.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Pollution prevention assessment conducted by Lightolier and the Office of Technical Assistance and Technology – Massachusetts.

An Abbreviated Alternatives Assessment Process for Product Designers

Story: A crib manufacture conducted assessment and identified alternatives to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in their baby crib line. To ensure that crib products met the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) limits for phthalates, the mattress’ PVC–based cover needed to be replaced. Through the alternatives assessment process, the use of PVC-based materials was eliminated

Results: The crib manufacturer completed the assessment within six months and was able to find a feasible and environmentally safe alternative well within the regulatory deadline. They now produce a waterproof cotton mattress, which is less hazardous to the environment and human health.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: A three-step assessment process which identified constituents and their hazard endpoints, researched viable alternatives and their environmental attributes, and evaluated feasibility of replacement. The three steps included product level analysis, dimensional parameters analysis, and component level analysis. Alternative mattresses were identified through brainstorming, internet research, and discussions with suppliers and experts.

VOC Reduction at ESP Lock Products, Inc.

Story: In 1994, ESP Lock Products, a lock and key manufacturing company, faced concerns about the effects of worker exposure to aliphatic hydrocarbon lubricating oils at its manufacturing facility. ESP was also close to exceeding its 12 ton per year permitted limit for VOC emissions. ESP replaced the highly volatile lubricating oils use in making key blanks, with a non-VOC lubricant derived from vegetable oil, and began using ultra-low volume misting units. Since only a few drops of oil per minute were required for the new process and was entirely consumed in the blanking process, it did not produce any air emissions or hazardous byproducts. Their efforts directly addressed both concerns in addition to significant cost savings.

Results: ESP eliminated both air emissions and hazardous byproducts from their processes; VOC emissions were reduced by 10.9 tons per year, and hazardous waste generation was reduced by 1,980 gallons per year. Thus, ESP saved on materials used and permitting fees, resulting in about $26,000 in yearly savings. In addition to cost savings, ESP drastically improved worker conditions by eliminating both air emissions and worker exposure to toxics during the manufacturing process.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Internal collaboration involving research, testing, and evaluating several alternatives to aliphatic hydrocarbon.

Case Studies on Specific Chemicals, Compounds, or Products

Assessment of Alternatives to Perchloroethylene for the Dry Cleaning Industry

Story: The Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) conducted an alternatives assessment of seven common alternatives to perchloroethylene (perc) to help dry cleaners find technically viable and environmentally preferred methods for cleaning clothes. Perc is classified as a probably carcinogen with acute toxicity characteristics. The alternatives evaluated include: Professional Wet Cleaning, Liquid Carbon Dioxide, High Flash Hydrocarbons, Acetal, Propylene Glycol Ethers, Cyclic Volatile Methyl Siloxane, and N-Propyl Bromide (nPB).

Results: The alternatives evaluated represent technically and economically feasible alternatives. The ability of individual facilities to justify the financial impact of switching to one of the alternatives varies. From a performance perspective, the client base and the skill of the facility employees are important factors in considering a switch to another alternative. From a regulatory perspective, in general, the alternatives do not have restrictions that negate the feasibility of that alternative. A few of the alternatives do have high flammability, however. A table in the report summarizes the seven alternatives and their comparisions for the different assessment criteria.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: A customized approach and matrix tool was used to compare and contrast the viability and attributes of potential replacements. Key assessment criteria included: functional attributes (cycle time, load capacity, spot removal, etc). equipment, chemical & electricity costs, environmental fate of the alternative, along with aquatic toxicity, exposure limits, numerous human health criteria, flash point, wastewater, hazardous waste generation, and a few regulatory considerations.

Use of DecaBDE Flame Retardants in Plastic Shipping Pallets: Assessing Safer Alternatives

Story: The state of Maine promulgated a law called An Act to Clarify Maine’s Phaseout of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (herein “the Act”). Section 9 of the Act authorized the DEP to supervise a study assessing the availability of safer alternatives to the use of decabrominated diphenyl ether (decaBDE) as a flame retardant in plastic shipping pallets.

The DEP drew on prior assessments of alternatives to decaBDE, the TURI alternative assessment protocol and input from stakeholders, including pallet manufacturers, to design an in-depth study and hired the sustainability consultancy Pure Strategies, Inc. to carry it out. The study explored three possible strategies for substituting decaBDE with a safer alternative: 1) plastic pallets without flame retardants; 2) plastic pallets using other chemical retardants; and 3) wood pallets.

As background, the Act defined “safer alternative’ as a substitute process, product, material, chemical or strategy that:

  1. When compared to the chemical to be replaced would reduce the potential for harm to human health or the environment or has not been shown to pose the same or greater potential for harm to human health or the environment as the chemical to be replaced;
  2. Serve a functionally equivalent purpose that enables applicable fire safety standards, approvals and tests and relevant performance standards to be met;
  3. Is commercially available on a national basis; and,
  4. Is not cost-prohibitive.

The study used the GreenScreenTM methodology to assess the toxicity of eight possible, non-halogenated chemical alternatives to decaBDE. One of these scored a GreenScreen benchmark of "4" (defined as "safer chemical"), six scored a "2" (defined as "use, but search for safer alternatives"), and one scored a "1", (defined as "avoid, chemical of high concern"). The remaining research compared five specific pallets - two containing non-halogenated flame retardants, one containing decaBDE, and two wooden pallets - for strength, durability, weight, cost competitiveness and other performance requirements necessary for use in the open-pool pallet rental market.

The study also examined whether the adoption of more stringent fire protection and management methods by users, could eliminate the need for flame retardants in plastic pallets.

Results: Based on the study, the DEP found:

  1. Pallets containing decaBDE are used predominantly in the open-pool leasing market to ship goods to warehouses. Some warehouses are equipped with fire safety systems that make the use of flame retardants unnecessary but many are not. Accordingly, complete elimination of flame retardants from plastic pallets used in "open-pool" rental market cannot be considered a safer alternative to pallets containing decaBDE because not all user facilities meet the stringent fire protection codes for use of plastic pallets.
  2. Two companies have developed flame retardant plastic pallets using a non-halogenated chemical that is safer than decaBDE. Neither qualifies as a “safer alternative” as defined under the Maine law. One falls short because it lacks sufficient load strength to serve as a functionally equivalent alternative to pallets made with decaBDE. The other fell short because it was too new to the marketplace (as December 2010) and had not at that time been demonstrated to be commercially available on a national basis or affordable to users.
  3. Wood pallets are a safer alternative to the use of pallets containing decaBDE. They do not require the use of chemical retardants, yet are equivalent to flame-retardant plastic pallets for the purposes of applicable fire safety standards. The fact that wood pallets are widely used in the open-pool leasing market to ship the same types of goods as are shipped on plastic pallets containing decaBDE demonstrates that they are functionally equivalent, commercially available and affordable to users.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Clean Production Action's GreenScreenTM was used to compare the toxicity of different flame retardants. Mechanical and other testing methods were used to assess performance and functionality of the pallets.

Five Chemicals Study

Story: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requested that the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) assess safer alternatives for lead, formaldehyde, perchloroethylene, hexavalent chromium, and diphthalate (DEHP). TURI developed an alternatives assessment process to identify alternatives and their respective environmental impacts, human health impacts, technical feasibility, and economic feasibility. TURI used 3 phases to achieve this goal. First the uses of chemicals in Massachusetts were identified and subsets of uses prioritized for further analysis. Second, TURI identified alternatives for chemical use and chose priority alternatives for further study. Then, TURI researched health, environmental, technical, and economic aspects of each alternative using information from publically available sources and experts.

Results: Alternatives were compared to the study chemical as a baseline, and the report provides information in the three assessment areas for each alternative. Users of this material should take into account their own assessments, values, priorities, and situation-specific requirements that are most relevant for their organizational, industrial, or policy goals.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: TURI Alternatives Assessment Method is a tool used to compare and contrast the viability and attributes of potential replacements. Such assessment can be used in the design phase to drive innovation and evaluate identified alternatives. A significant amount of data must be collected to comprehensively evaluate the alternatives, based on human health and environmental data.

Evaluating Flame Retardants for TV Enclosures

Story: As a test case for the GreenScreenTM tool, three flame retardants were evaluated using the four GreenScreenTM criteria.

Results: Of the three flame retardants (decaBDE, RDP, and BAPP), RDP was identified as the safer alternative of the four. Although RDP is not a per se “green chemical,” it achieved a higher level of human and environmental health and safety than the alternatives. Thus, RDP and its breakdown products is a safer chemical than decaBDE and BAPP based on the GreenScreenTM assessment.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: The GreenScreenTM assessment consists of comparing the hazards of all constituents and breakdown products of those constituents, contained in a material or compound or chemical. The hazard data is used to categorize the material within one of four benchmarks: Chemicals of High Concern (Avoid), Use but Search for Safer Substitutes, Use but Still Opportunity for Improvement, and Safer Chemical (Preferred).

Wire and Cable Applications – Alternatives

Story: With member companies of the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), TURI is working to evaluate alternatives to phthalates used as plasticizers in wire and cable applications. Massachusetts companies participated in a survey to help prioritize 100+ alternative chemicals. Ten were selected for further study using the Quick Chemical Assessment Tool (QCAT) developed by Alex Stone of the Washington (state) Department of Ecology.

Results: Based on the results of the QCAT, three plasticizers have been selected for full assessment using the GreenScreenTM: DOZ (an azelate), TEHTM (a trimellitate), and DINCH.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: Washington State’s QCAT initially. GreenScreenTM will be used for more in-depth analysis of three chemicals.

Studies of Chemicals or Products Conducted Under the U.S. EPA'S DfE Program

DfE Assessment of Bisphenol A (BPA) in Thermal Paper

Story: The EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) program is conducting a collaborative and detailed alternatives assessment to help identify safer substitutes for bisphenol A (BPA) in the manufacture of thermal paper, which is used for cash-register receipts. DfE has applied the alternatives assessment methodology for other products (listed below), and has two additional projects underway.

Results: The assessment is evaluating the hazard associated with available alternatives to BPA and will publish the results on the EPA website.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: U.S. EPA's DfE Alternatives Assessment Methodology

DFE Assessment - Environmental Profiles of Chemical Flame-Retardant Alternatives for Low-Density Polyurethane Foam

Story: The EPA DfE program conducted a collaborative and detailed alternatives assessment to help identify safer substitutes for chemical flame retardants used in furniture.

Results: The assessment and report provides a general overview of exposure pathways and routes for flame retardants used in flexible polyurethane foam assessment and presents 14 formulations of flame-retardant products that would be safer alternatives to commercially available pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE).

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: U.S. EPA's DfE Alternatives Assessment Methodology

DfE Assessment - Partnership to Evaluate Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards

Story: The EPA DfE program conducted a collaborative and detailed alternatives assessment to help identify safer substitutes for chemical flame retardants used in printed circuit boards (PCBs). Alternative flame retardant materials are used in only 3-5 percent of current FR-4 boards (PCBs that comply with UL 94 V0 fire safety standards), but additional alternative flame retardant materials are also under development. Little information existed concerning the potential environmental and human health impacts of the materials which are being developed as alternatives to those in current use.

Results: The assessment and report contains a summary of the partnerships formed and actions taken to conduct this assessment, the environmental and human health attributes of thirteen selected flame retardants used in PCBs, and recommended considerations for selecting flame retardants for PCBs.

Alternative Identification or Assessment Tools or Methodologies Used: U.S. EPA's DfE Alternatives Assessment Methodology

For additional alternative chemical, product, or technology design examples, see:


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Hub Last Updated: 12/29/2013