The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published guidance on substituting harmful chemicals with alternatives. The guidance aims to advance broader agreement on an approach and criteria for selecting such alternatives, including the minimum requirements for determining which option is safest.

The publication titled, ‘Guidance on Key Considerations for the Identification and Selection of Safer Chemical Alternatives,’ published in March 2021, seeks to help industry, NGOs, and the public sector select appropriate methods and tools to respond to the growing interest in substituting harmful chemicals.

An alternative that does not perform as well may not be considered an acceptable alternative.

The guidance focuses on four aspects of assessing alternatives: determining the assessment’s scope; comparative hazard assessment; comparative exposure assessment; and integration of hazard and exposure results to select safer alternatives. The authors identify factors such as performance, cost, and commercial availability as critical assessment components in determining the viability of an alternative. For example, an alternative that does not perform as well reduces a product’s lifespan or requires additional inputs and, thus, may not be considered an acceptable alternative. 

The document also provides a self-assessment checklist of recommended practices and criteria, and addresses broader sustainability considerations beyond chemical safety, for use to select more sustainable chemical alternatives.

The guidance recommends that future activities work to: refine minimum criteria based on evolving knowledge and practice; establish additional criteria that go beyond minimum requirements; and examine the ways in which such criteria can more effectively influence the design of new chemicals.

The guidance primarily focuses on single chemical substitutions and not ‘functional substitution,’ where the alternative could include technology, product, or service changes. It is meant to complement ongoing efforts on sustainable chemistry within the EU and other OECD countries. [Publication: Guidance on Key Considerations for the Identification and Selection of Safer Chemical Alternatives] [Publication Landing Page]