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Alternatives Assessment: Going Beyond Hazard

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By Dr. Jennifer Young Tanir

ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute


When surveyed by the ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI), there was general agreement by stakeholders that attributes beyond hazard are also important (i.e. LCA, risk/exposure, cost, performance, social responsibility) and no one tool or method meets all needs. There is not enough standardization with current methodologies and there is often insufficient handling of data gaps and insufficient ability to weigh multiple attributes.  The need to pool the expertise of participants across academia, government, NGOs, and industry to develop guidance for implementing alternatives assessment led HESI to initiate the Emerging Issues Subcommittee on Frameworks for Alternative Chemical Assessment and Selection of Safer, Sustainable Alternatives (i.e. Sustainable Alternatives subcommittee) in the fall of 2011.  The mission of the project is to evaluate and identify key elements/criteria and tools to help trigger and guide the selection of safer, sustainable alternatives while minimizing the likelihood of regrettable substitutions. The project aims to develop practical, problem driven guidance on the conduct of alternatives assessment that will address multi-stakeholder needs and go beyond hazard assessment.

Increasing pressures from consumers and regulators have led to efforts to find more sustainable, safer chemical alternatives. Alternatives Assessment is a process for identifying and comparing potential chemical and non-chemical alternatives that can be used as substitutes to replace chemicals or technologies of high concern (Dr. Ken Geiser of Lowell Center for Sustainable Production).  On the regulatory side, REACH, the California Safer Consumer Products Regulation, and potential TSCA reform are the main drivers requiring alternatives assessment. There are also incentives because of corporate sustainability initiatives, lists of chemicals of concern, eco-labels and certifications, and consumer preferences.

The HESI Sustainable Alternatives subcommittee has decided to focus on three challenging topics (through three subgroups), which will be presented at the 17th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference.  1) Attributes and Tools: this subgroup is focused on developing guidance on attributes beyond hazard that are also important, including life cycle assessment, exposure, risk, performance, cost and social responsibility, as well as new tools for prioritization and assessment of hazard, risk and other attributes.  2) Decision-making and Weighing: this subgroup has emphasized making decisions with limited data and a minimum data set and best practices for weighing disparate attributes. 3) Data Gaps: this subgroup is examining the data gaps, data needs, and solutions for missing data.  Much progress was made on the project during a recent HESI workshop on Developing Guidance for Alternatives Assessment (7-8 February 2013), featured in the Environmental Factor by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the article “Public-private group explores sustainable alternatives assessment.”

To learn more about the guidance being developed on these three topics by the subcommittee, stop by presentations #43-45 during the 17th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in the “What Is An Alternative Assessment?” session, on the afternoon of April 18.  HESI is also sponsoring the 3rd Annual ACS GCI Roundtable Poster Reception on June 17 and will be available to discuss their poster, materials, and the program.

The ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) was established in 1989 as a global branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) to provide an international forum to advance the understanding of scientific issues related to human health, toxicology, risk assessment, and the environment. With a vision of creating science-based solutions for a sustainable, healthier world, HESI recognizes sustainability as vitally important as it identifies and resolves global health and environmental issues through engagement with scientists from academia, government and industry.  As a non-profit organization, HESI provides a unique, objective forum for initiating dialogue among scientists with different perspectives and expertise from a range of sectors including pharmaceuticals, agricultural and industrial chemicals, personal care and consumer product, and others. HESI’s broad scientific portfolio across 16 scientific committees spans advancing translational sciences, innovating novel approaches, and improving risk and safety evaluation. Using a committee structure to engage scientists, supported by expert staff with advanced scientific degrees, HESI enables hundreds of scientists to work together to address public health needs, from 49 corporate sponsors, 70 universities, 32 government agencies (international, national, and state), foundations and non-governmental organizations.  If you are interested in becoming involved with the HESI Sustainable Alternatives subcommittee or any other HESI scientific committee, contact Dr. Jennifer Young Tanir ( Please visit the HESI website ( for more information.

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