A Bigger Chemical and Material Library Means Healthier Products


Michel Dedeo - June 29, 2016

As more and more manufacturers disclose chemical hazards through programs like Portico, the Health Product Declaration, Declare, and Cradle to Cradle, it is critical that everyone have access to complete and accurate hazard information, even if they don’t have a chemist on staff. HBN's Chemical and Material Library is growing and evolving to meet that need.

The Pharos Project strives to provide the most complete and accurate information about chemical health and environmental hazards available by compiling information from authoritative scientific lists and restricted substance lists that cover 22 endpoints such as cancer, asthma, and developmental toxicity. Using this to better understand the health hazards associated with products can be more difficult than one imagines. It is enough of a challenge to correctly identify chemicals and associate them with hazards drawn from authoritative lists. It gets even more challenging because some hazards are associated not with individual substances, but rather with whole classes of similar substances such as ‘nonylphenols’ or ‘tetraalkyl lead compounds’. Previously there was no list of the substances that fit these hazard classes and manufacturers or users were left on their own to check if a chemical fit into these categories. This would be hard enough to navigate with just a handful of classes, but there are over 360 classes that are categorized in this way.

HBN is changing that situation. We are developing tools that scan the structures of millions of substances to identify members of these classes. The Pharos Chemical and Material Library has recently grown to include over 40,000 compounds with the recent addition of hundreds of highly toxic organometallic chemicals. These are the first of many compounds that are not flagged as hazardous in any other system by name or CASRN (the unique numerical identifier assigned to  every chemical substance described in the open scientific literature). For the first time, these chemicals are now explicitly assigned their proper hazards in Pharos. This is critical to avoid regrettable substitutions, as material developers will often look to very similar chemicals for substitutes when seeking replacements with similar performance characteristics.

Transparency is very important to us, and when we link a hazard to a chemical we make it clear exactly where that hazard came from. The next time you’re looking at a chemical page in Pharos and you see hazards with an asterisk, those come from a chemical class. Putting your cursor over the asterisk will tell you which class the hazard comes from.

This work to populate our chemical classes is a very significant step, moving Pharos from simply aggregating chemical hazard lists to identifying the CASRN of all the individual chemicals that make up a hazardous class. And this fills significant gaps in hazard identification, helping people make and select the best products possible.

 


Michel Dedeo is the Chemist for the Healthy Building Network.