Optimizing Chemicals Management in the United States and Canada through the Essential-Use Approach. Environmental Science & Technology 57 (4).2023.
Chemicals have improved the functionality and convenience of industrial and consumer products, but sometimes at the expense of human or ecological health. Existing regulatory systems have proven to be inadequate for assessing and managing the tens of thousands of chemicals in commerce. A different approach is urgently needed to minimize ongoing production, use, and exposures to hazardous chemicals. The premise of the essential-use approach is that chemicals of concern should be used only in cases in which their function in specific products is necessary for health, safety, or the functioning of society and when feasible alternatives are unavailable. To optimize the essential-use approach for broader implementation in the United States and Canada, we recommend that governments and businesses (1) identify chemicals of concern for essentiality assessments based on a broad range of hazard traits, going beyond toxicity; (2) expedite decision-making by avoiding unnecessary assessments and strategically asking up to three questions to determine whether the use of the chemical in the product is essential; (3) apply the essential-use approach as early as possible in the process of developing and assessing chemicals; and (4) engage diverse experts in identifying chemical uses and functions, assessing alternatives, and making essentiality determinations and share such information broadly. If optimized and expanded into regulatory systems in the United States and Canada, other policymaking bodies, and businesses, the essential-use approach can improve chemicals management and shift the market toward safer chemistries that benefit human and ecological health.