Profile Chemical Hazard and ExposureThis is a featured page

The objective of this effort is to provide background information on each chemical of concern, highlight associated environmental, health and safety issues, and provide a baseline against which the alternatives can be compared.

Chemical Hazard Characteristics

Characterizing a chemical based on its inherent hazards is an essential component of conducting an alternatives assessment, because it allows you to assess whether or not an alternative is indeed preferable from an environmental, health and safety perspective. The hazard properties are intrinsic to the chemical, which means that regardless of the way that a chemical is used, these characteristics do not change. Given the difficulty in knowing or anticipating all of the different applications for a chemical, the hazard data and characterization are extremely useful to have in hand for current and potential users of the chemical.

The specific hazard characteristics examined will depend on the definition in use of "safer alternative." For some alternatives assessments, "safer alternative" has been defined by statute or regulation; in others, it has not. Alternatives assessments will be more or less extensive, depending on the number of hazard characteristics evaluated.

Hazard Characteristics to Consider

States conducting alternatives assessments need to determine what chemical hazard and exposure criteria it is interested in including in the assessment. A list of chemical hazard endpoints that could be considered includes the following:

Physical Hazards
  • Corrosivity
  • Flammability
  • Greenhouse gas formation potential
  • Ozone-depletion potential
  • Reactivity
Human Health Hazards
  • Acute toxicity
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Chronic toxicity
  • Developmental toxicity
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Eye damage/irritation
  • Mutagenicity
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Sensitization
  • Skin irritation
Environmental Hazards
  • Acute aquatic toxicity
  • Bioaccumulation
  • Persistence
Note that no alternatives assessment done by the US EPA, Maine, Washington or the UN in implementing the Stockholm Convention, has examined a chemical for every single one of the 19 characteristics listed above. The US EPA DfE Program evaluated in the Flame Retardant assessments, 11 endpoints. WA State and the Green Screen assessments evaluated chemicals on the basis of 17 endpoints. The hazard characteristics evaluated need to be consistent with the policy ask; otherwise there is the danger of paralysis by analysis.

Information about potential human health and environmental impacts associated with the use or exposure to the chemicals of concern can be found in a number of sources: public databases, peer-reviewed scientific journals, reference materials, industry trade group resources (publications and web sites) and advocacy group resources (publications and web sites). See the Resources page for more information

Sources of Information

The following is a suggested hierarchy of validity for sources of information:

  • Peer-reviewed studies
  • Government-generated studies
  • Industry or advocacy group studies subject to Good Laboratory Practice guidelines
  • Models based on structure-activity relationships (SAR)
  • Industry or advocacy group studies not subject to Good Laboratory Practice guidelines
  • Read-across analyses

Exposure Characteristics

Exposure potential is more difficult to generalize, as it is affected by the specific use of a chemical. For instance, when considering a chemical that will be relatively incorporated into a product so that the potential for human or environmental exposure after production is negligible, the exposure concern is primarily associated with the production process and associated occupational and environmental exposures. A chemical that is incorporated into a product in such a way that it could be released during use, however, must also consider the specific mechanisms in which exposure to humans or the environment might occur. Finally, exposures that occur during the end of life management of the chemical and/or product into which it is incorporated depend on the state of the chemical or product and the management method to which it is subjected.

Using a risk assessment model, exposure is estimated by examining chemicals in a specific end use for a specific population. For example, one could perform a risk assessment for lead in a toy coated with lead-based paint and used by toddlers. Simplified, one could estimate exposure by knowing the concentration of lead in the toy, how often a child would interact with the toy, how often the child would put the toy in his or her mouth, how much of the lead would dissolve in the child's saliva, and how much would be taken up by the child's gastrointestinal tract. Much of this information does not exist.

Because many assumptions would be used in risk assessments related to product use, this uncertainty can make risk assessments contentious. Depending on how many chemicals are evaluated and the types of exposures of interest and the accessibility of relevant information, risk assessments can be time-consuming and costly and impractical for evaluating many chemicals and many products. A large area of uncertainty when estimating exposures from the use of consumer products is the lack of information about the types and amounts of chemicals in consumer products used by children. The U.S. EPA provides guidance on conducting risk assessments related to children’s exposures[1] that focuses on providing information related to children’s behaviors, but limited information exists around actual levels of chemicals in products.

Intentionally moving away from the risk assessment model, governments are using proxies for exposure potential. Proxies will not help estimate exposure, but they provide a sense of exposure potential that can be especially useful in prioritizing chemicals. Proxies used have included:

  • Production volume
  • Biomonitoring studies: presence of the chemical in human blood, including umbilical cord blood, breast milk, urine, or other bodily tissues or fluids;
  • The chemical has been found through sampling and analysis to be present in household dust, indoor air, drinking water, or elsewhere in the indoor environment;
  • The chemical has been found through monitoring to be present in fish, wildlife, or the natural environment;
  • The chemical is present in a consumer product used or present in the home;
  • The chemical is present in children's products
  • The chemical is used in products resulting in potentially high exposure to workers, pregnant or lactating women
  • The chemical is used in dispersive product applications.
Exposure Proxy

State legislation defining proxies for exposure potential

Added to or present in a consumer product present in or used in the home

Contained in a children's product offered for sale in state

Identified as HPV chemical by US EPA

Found through biomonitoring studies: human umbilical cord blood, human breast milk, human urine, other bodily tissues or fluids
Found through sampling and analysis to be present in household dust, indoor air, drinking water, elsewhere in the home environment

Found through monitoring to be present in fish,wildlife, or the natural environment
Criteria for "high priority chemical of high concern for children," include one or more (WA Children's Safe Products Act, Sec. 4)



Criteria for "priority chemical", include one or more (ME Act to Protect Children's Health and the Environment from Toxic Chemicals in Toys and Children's Products, Sec. 1694)




Criteria for "priority chemical", include one or more of shaded cells (MN HF250 Committee Engrossment, Sec. 3, 2009)






[1]EPA, 2008. Child-specific exposure factors handbook. Available at:

Latest page update: made by PamEliason , Jun 28 2010, 7:33 AM EDT (about this update About This Update PamEliason Edited by PamEliason

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