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Solvent substitution

Integrating health, environmental and economic aspects

Solvents fulfill an essential role in numerous applications guaranteeing the efficiency and performance of the formulation. However, like any product, solvents can be dangerous if they are not handled properly or their potential risks during use are not properly evaluated.

ESIG’s priority is to develop tools and recommendations to facilitate the safe use of solvents. ESIG also wishes to engage in a dialogue with authorities and solvent users on this topic, with a view to ensuring a responsible and sustainable use of solvents.

It is important to bear in mind:

  • the term “solvents” covers a wide range of chemical substances, each with its own toxicological and environmental properties (for example, the characteristics of toluene are different from a dearomatised hydrocarbon solvent, which in turn is different from an oxygenated solvent like methylethylketone).
  • a solvent plays a specific technical role in each application. There are a large number of different solvents as different applications have diverse technical requirements.
  • Risks associated with solvents use are well known and essentially linked to the volatility of solvents (flammability, inhalation risk and atmospheric emissions). In most cases, they can be easily controlled with simple risk management measures.

How should substitution work?

Substitution means replacing a substance by another for a particular use, with the objective of achieving an improved performance, a lower cost and/or a reduction of potential risks.

Every planned substitution of a chemical must be based on a clearly identified risk, taking into account all aspects of use of the product, including the socio-economic ones.

In an existing process or use, when identifying a potential risk, it is important to check whether the risk could be reduced in a simple manner, for example by:

  • Substituting the solvent associated with the risk by another solvent with similar technical performance, but which poses a lower risk of exposure, e.g. being less volatile (in cases where this is technically possible)
  • Implementing better control measures, such as appropriate ventilation, wearing suitable glasses and gloves, improved containment, etc.

In every new project, it is essential to properly evaluate and reduce health and environmental risks already at the planning stage, with a view to identifying solutions that minimize all risks throughout the entire distribution chain of the product.

Health, safety and environmental properties of any substitute must be fully evaluated before proceeding with the substitution. This is to avoid inadvertently increasing any risk or introducing new risks of a different nature that could have different negative societal effects.

How to use substitution as a tool for risk reduction?

  • Evaluate the risk (this includes hazard identification, exposure evaluation and risk characterisation)
  • Implement simple risk reduction measures (technical measures, personal protection or restrictions of uses)
  • If these measures are not sufficient, envisage a substitution after having made a complete risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis of the available alternatives, including possible socio-economic aspects linked to the substitution.

A systematic substitution, based solely on the inherent hazard properties of a given solvent is inappropriate and can lead to undesirable effects.

Minimising exposure to any chemical is a general good practice.

It is crucial that solvent users have a good understanding of the risks associated with the products and that they have access to clear and precise information regarding safe handling and use.