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NSF Offers GreenScreen to Promote Safer Chemicals

By Jennifer Atlee

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com.

February 28, 2012

Time and again we’ve seen hazardous chemicals in building materials replaced with ingredients that we later learn are no better than the originals. In a move that could help change that pattern, well-known standards developer and product certifier NSF International has announced a new chemical evaluation program using the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals tool.

The GreenScreen benchmarking system is designed to go beyond common
Courtesy Clean Production Action
The GreenScreen benchmarking system is designed to go beyond common "red list" systems and toward more forward-thinking hazard assessment.
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GreenScreen, developed by Clean Production Action (CPA), provides a method to assess all chemical constituents based on their hazardous properties to help manufacturers move from toxic chemicals to safer alternatives. While some manufacturers have the expertise to use the methodology in-house, most would benefit from third-party expertise for GreenScreen analysis. Prior to NSF’s program launch, ToxServices, a toxicology risk-assessment consulting company, was the only authorized third-party evaluator of the GreenScreen. According to Lauren Heine, consulting co-director of CPA and director of the GreenScreen program, ToxServices “has been invaluable in helping us build the program and to ensure that GreenScreen assessments are thorough and robust.” NSF’s involvement is a sign that GreenScreen is ready to go to scale.

In an industry awash with “red lists” (long lists of hazardous chemicals to avoid), the GreenScreen is unique. Rather than just providing a list of known hazards, GreenScreen methodology assigns each chemical a benchmark from 1–4 based on 18 human and environmental hazard endpoints (such as carcinogenicity, endocrine activity, or reproductive toxicity). The benchmark system provides an easy guide to the degree of hazard, with Benchmark 1 indicating significant concerns and Benchmark 4 indicating a chemical that is demonstrated as safe against the GreenScreen hazard endpoints.

To advance from Benchmark 1 to safer benchmarks, the chemical, along with its known and predicted transformational products, must pass a detailed set of criteria relative to each hazard endpoint. These criteria provide guidelines for evaluating existing studies and for assessing knowledge gaps regarding a chemical’s hazard profile.

Instead of assuming incorrectly that an unlisted chemical is safe, GreenScreen supports analysis to enable confidence that a chemical truly does not exhibit hazardous properties. According to Tom Bruursema, general manger at NSF Sustainability, “The GreenScreen program helps prevent the costly mistake of choosing an alternative chemical that is later found to be hazardous.”

“We see GreenScreen as the most versatile tool out there for hazard assessments,” explains Teresa McGrath, a toxicologist at NSF and a lead champion of the new offering. NSF is joining with CPA on training programs for the industry to support GreenScreen program expansion.

Copyright 2012 by BuildingGreen Inc.

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