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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On February 23, 2021, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) announced that in association with other relevant Directorates-General (DG) of the European Commission (EC), DG Environment has opened a call for applications to select members for an expert group, the High-Level Roundtable on Implementation of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.  According to EU-OSHA, the expert group’s mission “is to set the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability objectives and monitor its implementation in dialogue with the stakeholders concerned.”  Specific tasks include contributing to identifying and addressing social, economic, and cultural barriers to the transition toward safe and sustainable chemicals.  The expert group will act as a core group of ambassadors to facilitate discussions and promote this transition in the economy and society, developing a regular exchange of views, experiences, and good practices between the EC and stakeholders on the main objectives of the Strategy, namely:

  • Innovating for safe and sustainable chemicals, including for materials and products;
  • Addressing pressing environmental and health concerns;
  • Simplifying and consolidating the legal framework;
  • Providing a comprehensive knowledge base on chemicals; and
  • Setting the example for global sound management of chemicals.

The expert group will consist of up to 32 members, with a maximum of:

  • The Member State holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union;
  • Ten third-sector organizations in the following areas:  health protection, environmental protection, human rights, animal protection, consumer rights, and workers’ rights;
  • Eight scientific organizations, academia, and research institutes providing a suitable balance between expertise in fundamental research, applied research, and training/education;
  • Ten industries, including small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) or associations of enterprises, including an adequate representation of frontrunners in the production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals.  Those should include chemical industries, downstream users (from different sectors), and retailers; and
  • Three international organizations -- the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Interested organizations are invited to submit their applications before March 18, 2021.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham

On February 8, 2018, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a technology assessment report to congressional requestors entitled Chemical Innovation:  Technologies to Make Processes and Products More Sustainable.  GAO states it conducted this technology assessment “to explore, among other things, the opportunities, challenges, and federal roles in sustainable chemistry.”  This report discusses (1) how stakeholders define and assess sustainable chemistry; (2) available or developing technologies to make chemical processes and products more sustainable; and (3) how the federal government, industry and others contribute to the development and use of such technologies.  GAO states it is not making recommendations in this report, but is identifying strategic implications.

As part of its assessment, GAO interviewed stakeholders from government, industry, and academia; convened a meeting of experts on sustainable chemistry technologies and approaches; and surveyed a non-generalizable sample of chemical companies.  GAO identified three categories of more sustainable chemistry technologies -- catalysts, solvents, and continuous processing -- that demonstrate both progress and potential:

  • Catalysts reduce the energy input required for a chemical process and allow for more efficient use of materials.  Stakeholders suggested future research be directed at developing less toxic or renewable catalysts, including those that are metal-free or those from earth-abundant metals such as iron. 
  • Solvents are used in many chemical processes but can create waste issues and be toxic.  Alternatives include solvents from renewable, non-petroleum raw materials and solvents such as water that are less hazardous to human health and the environment, among other qualities. 
  • An alternative to traditional batch processing is continuous processing, in which materials react as they flow along a system of channels, pipes, or tubes. Compared to batch processing, continuous processing uses materials more efficiently, generates less waste, and has a smaller physical footprint.

GAO also identified, through its interaction with stakeholders, the following strategic implications of sustainable chemistry; and potential options to address these challenges and realize the full potential of these technologies:

  • Breakthrough technologies in sustainable chemistry could transform how the industry thinks about performance, function, and synthesis.  Sustainable chemistry creates opportunities to use a different conceptual framework that allows industry to create molecules with better performance. 
  • The establishment of an organized constituency, with the involvement of both industry and government, could help make sustainable chemistry a priority.  An industry consortium, working in partnership with a key supporter at the federal level, could lead to an effective national initiative or strategy.
  • A national initiative that considers sustainable chemistry in a systematic manner could be useful.  Such an effort could encourage collaborations among industry, academia and the government, similar to other national technology Initiatives.
  • There are opportunities for the federal government to address industry-wide challenges.  Federal attention that facilitates development of standard tools for assessment and a robust definition could help clarify relevant participants in the field and improve information available for decision-makers at all levels

More information on the report and its strategic implications is available on GAO’s website.