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Alternatives Assessment Frameworks: Research Needs for the Informed Substitution of Hazardous Chemicals.

  • Author(s): Jacobs, Molly M
  • Malloy, Timothy F
  • Tickner, Joel A
  • Edwards, Sally
  • et al.
Abstract

Background

Given increasing pressures for hazardous chemical replacement, there is growing interest in alternatives assessment to avoid substituting a toxic chemical with another of equal or greater concern. Alternatives assessment is a process for identifying, comparing, and selecting safer alternatives to chemicals of concern (including those used in materials, processes, or technologies) on the basis of their hazards, performance, and economic viability.

Objectives

The purposes of this substantive review of alternatives assessment frameworks are to identify consistencies and differences in methods and to outline needs for research and collaboration to advance science policy practice.

Methods

This review compares methods used in six core components of these frameworks: hazard assessment, exposure characterization, life-cycle impacts, technical feasibility evaluation, economic feasibility assessment, and decision making. Alternatives assessment frameworks published from 1990 to 2014 were included.

Results

Twenty frameworks were reviewed. The frameworks were consistent in terms of general process steps, but some differences were identified in the end points addressed. Methodological gaps were identified in the exposure characterization, life-cycle assessment, and decision-analysis components. Methods for addressing data gaps remain an issue.

Discussion

Greater consistency in methods and evaluation metrics is needed but with sufficient flexibility to allow the process to be adapted to different decision contexts.

Conclusion

Although alternatives assessment is becoming an important science policy field, there is a need for increased cross-disciplinary collaboration to refine methodologies in support of the informed substitution and design of safer chemicals, materials, and products. Case studies can provide concrete lessons to improve alternatives assessment.

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