02/03/2004

Substitute Dangerous Substances

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work features a webside by
Invista/DuPont that helps to substitute dangerous substances.

European law places elimination and substitution at the top of the hierarchy of
control measures for protecting workers from the risks related to chemical
agents, carcinogens and biological agents. For carcinogens and mutagens,
substitution requirements are even more stringent and replacement has to be
carried out as far as it is technically possible.

In order to change to a substitute you need to go through three steps:

1. Identify the alternatives: find out all the options available to you.

2. Compare the alternatives: carry out risk assessments of all the alternatives
and compare your findings

3. Make the decision: based on regulatory needs, cost, quality, etc.

Reducing risk where possible is something we should do within our own work
place and for our customers.

For example, methylene chloride, a hazardous chemical, is widely used for
stripping paint from different materials. It is effective, but can cause
chronic and acute damage to health. Even fatal accidents happened when applied
in confined spaces or used carelessly without the appropriate safety
equipment.. The EU has classified methylene chloride as a category 3
carcinogenic, ‘Substances that need attention due to their possible
carcinogenic properties for humans'. The chemical has to be labelled as Harmful
(Xn), with risk phrase R40 (possible risk of irreversible effects). But this is
not the most important risk evolving when handling methylene chloride or
product containing this substance.

Methylene chloride evaporates very quickly and can cause dizziness,
unconsciousness and even death to the user if the correct protective equipment
is not used. In 2002 the European Union saw 3 such fatalities one of which was
in the UK. Use of methylene chloride in paint strippers is already restricted
in Austria and Scandinavia. In the UK more than 80% of paint strippers contain
methylene chloride, they are branded with household names and sold in large
quantities into the do-it-yourself market. In such a place there will normally
be no sales person providing a safety data sheet or instructing the consumer on
protection whilst using the product.

Many substitutes for methylene chloride have been developed. Replacing
methylene chloride with a safer substitute means the risk during exposure and
the need to use personal breathing protection equipment is much reduced. In
order to compare individual solvents, the VHR (Vapour Hazard Ratio) offers
advice to users in a simple to use table. This method is officially recommended
in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria. Methylene chloride, however, still
dominates the market. The fast action of the product, the lack of awareness of
alternatives and the low enforcement of OSH rules in this sector ­ still make
methylene chloride a favourite chemical with users despite the substantial
risk.

Be aware of the risks when using paint strippers at work or in the home and
know that there are alternatives out there that can be just as effective as
those with methylene chloride and which are much safer and less expensive to
use.

Further Information


AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work