John C. Warner and Jennifer K. Ludwig propose a rubric for evaluating the potential of previously unknown chemical compounds and mixtures for meeting human and environmental health and safety standards. Scientists need a way to decide whether their future research will produce a substance that passes regulatory tests. The authors envision a three-step process:
1) Develop chemical safety tests that are standard across academia, industry, national governments, and various international trade groups. This avoids harm to people and the environment. It also reduces lost effort and investment by researchers and companies who pursue an avenue of production that is later blocked by regulation. It forestalls the situation where chemicals adopted as replacements for a known hazardous material are no better than the original.
2) Evaluate human safety of finished products. In some cases a product may have ingredients that change or even evaporate in the manufacturing process, so that the harmful effects associated with the ingredient are not found in the final product. It is also possible that more benign ingredients may go through some reaction, or compound with other ingredients to produce a hazard. Both cases are addressed by standard testing of finished products before they are marketed. Safety information about finished products could be made available to consumers to help them make informed decisions about whether to use a product.
3) Test results should be presented to the public in a way that allows interpretation of the data without influence from the agenda of any testing agency. This could be something similar to current nutritional labeling for prepared and packaged food. Independent testing agencies could evaluate the potential hazard (or lack of it) of a product on various criteria of concern. The authors suggest three possible criteria: carcinogenicity, emissions and endocrine-disruption potential. Products would be scored on all identified criteria, enabling comparisons between products. Third parties could suggest desirable scores that products should meet and governments could regulate or ban products that do not score well enough to meet a general standard of keeping the public safe.