[Pharmwaste] A Turn to Alternative Chemicals

DeBiasi,Deborah dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Fri Mar 28 13:36:50 EDT 2008

This is encouraging!


March 26, 2008 
A Turn to Alternative Chemicals 


JOEL TICKNER is trying to build a greener future one molecule at a time.
Dr. Tickner directs the chemicals science and policy program at the
Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of
versity_of_massachusetts/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , Lowell. The center
researches and promotes environmentally sound chemicals policy and

When he's not teaching, Dr. Tickner may be darting off to Washington,
New York, Montreal and cities in Europe to speak with legislators,
regulators and executives about making safer, more competitive products.
He also works with chemists in the industry and at Lowell to help them
think about designing environmentally benign chemicals. 

"We're at a turning point," Dr. Tickner said. "Companies and states are
taking leadership where the federal government isn't." He spoke to a
reporter before flying to Pittsburgh to speak to executives at Bayer
ml?inline=nyt-org> 's United States headquarters about European and
American chemicals policies. "It's not about banning chemicals one by
one, but about thinking more holistically about how we use chemicals in
the design process itself." 
This approach is the core of green chemistry, which tries to eliminate
waste, use renewable or environmentally benign materials and avoid
relying on toxic reagents and solvents when designing chemical products.

European mandates, and to some degree state regulations, have propelled
manufacturers to adopt a deeper shade of green. More recently, some
businesses have been creating change by demanding safer products from
suppliers. One such heavyweight is Kaiser Permanente, a nonprofit health
care system with nearly $38 billion in revenue last year.

A few years ago, some Kaiser managers grew alarmed by studies showing
that a plastic used in many supplies - polyvinyl chloride, or PVC -
turns to chlorinated dioxin, a toxin, when burned. Other studies showed
that DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate, a chemical that makes PVC malleable),
can leach into the contents of intravenous bags, potentially causing
reproductive problems in male babies. 

So the team summoned experts to identify hospital products containing
hazardous ingredients. Soon after, a Kaiser sourcing manager called
suppliers to see if they could come up with safe and functional PVC-free
alternatives for carpets, medical gloves and other supplies.

None were available. So Kaiser challenged manufacturers to create them
and compete for its business. As of 2004, Kaiser has been rolling out
carpets made by Tandus, of Dalton, Ga., which use a nontoxic polymer
called polyvinyl butyral, or PVB. Meanwhile, Kaiser found a supplier,
Baxter International
nal_inc/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , for intravenous bags free of PVC,
DEHP and latex. It also buys nitrile gloves, a latex substitute, from
Cardinal Health
nc/index.html?inline=nyt-org> . 

Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer at
Kaiser, said it would be financially prohibitive to test the toxicity of
all its products. 

"We want to eliminate exposure of toxic chemicals among our patients and
in our communities," she said. "It's really hard to do that in the
absence of the kind of information we need that's available."
In 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, which
required that chemicals produced from 1979, when the toxic inventory
began, be subject to review for toxicity before entering the market. But
the act let some 62,000 chemicals that were produced before then avert
scrutiny. That makes it tough for companies like Kaiser to know what
potentially toxic chemicals might be in products they buy.

Many experts say that the federal Environmental Protection Agency
ironmental_protection_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org>  is too lenient
on product manufacturers. "This is a major regulatory and market
failure," said Michael P. Wilson, a toxicologist with the School of
Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. 

The E.P.A. has preferred the carrot over the stick approach with
industry. In 1995, it started a voluntary program to encourage
manufacturers and researchers to create more environmentally sensitive
processes and products. 

Many companies are not waiting for the stick. They are making their
products conform to stricter chemical regulations enacted by the
European Union
opean_union/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , Canada, Japan and other places.

"The benefit of more restrictive policies globally is that it allows us
to make one product that we sell everywhere," said Sean Cady, director
of environment, health and safety for Levi Strauss & Company, the jeans
maker in San Francisco. Eight years ago, Levi began publishing a list of
chemicals that it prohibits or restricts in its products.

The list, which is updated annually, dictates the type of fabric and raw
materials that Levi buys from suppliers. For example, four years ago,
designers created a shirt fabric that incorporated an antimicrobial
chemical called isothiazolinone to prevent underarm odor and stain. But
once Mr. Cady's team saw that the chemical was on its list, the idea was

Peter Dunn, who heads Pfizer
html?inline=nyt-org> 's green chemistry projects in Sandwich, England,
said the company's efforts have yielded "tens of millions in savings" in
the production of two of its top-selling drugs: Viagra
pics/viagra_drug/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier> , the
erection-enhancing drug, and Lyrica, a pain killer. 
Much of the savings have come from reducing organic solvents like
acetone. For Viagra, the company has reduced the amount of organic
solvents from 1,300 liters per kilogram of drug produced in 1990 to 6.3
liters today, Mr. Dunn said. Some solvents, like acetone, were
eliminated or replaced with renewable solvents like water. 

Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email:   dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!)
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219
PH:         804-698-4028
FAX:      804-698-4032

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