Alternatives Assessment

Alternatives Assessment at the IC2

Many state and local environmental agencies want to minimize the negative effects associated with toxic chemicals use while encouraging the viability and growth of the companies that employ their citizens and support the health of their economies. Finding safer alternatives that companies can adopt (i.e., that satisfy their functional needs and performance requirements and are cost effective) is a highly efficient way to achieve this. 

The overall process of assessing alternatives involves identifying potential alternatives and then determining whether they are: 

  • Safer
  • Functionally equivalent 
  • Economically feasible

Individual states and local agencies have their own policy, regulatory, and/or technical assistance response to the information obtained from an AA. However, the goal is to have a consistent process that allows programs to use each other’s studies to minimize duplication and maximize dissemination of valuable information on safer alternatives to chemicals of concern. 

Evolution of the IC2’s AA Information Resources

In September 2008, representatives from a number of states gathered to discuss the need for shared resources and to draft common language for assessing the availability of safer alternatives for chemicals of concern. At that two-day meeting, the group decided to work collaboratively to create a protocol for conducting safer alternatives assessments.

Based on the discussions from the two-day meeting, representatives drafted a non-binding protocol for conducting a comprehensive alternatives assessment (AA). The group wanted to create a dynamic resource and list of documents that could be useful for states interested in using alternatives assessment to inform their chemicals policy and technical assistance activities. To fulfill this vision, participants from state agencies in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington created the Safer Alternatives Wiki to provide a forum for ongoing discussion, information sharing, and collaboration. Key staff, including Pam Eliason at the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Alex Stone at the Washington Department of Ecology provided extensive support for the Wiki in collaboration with IC2’s members and other interested parties. The Wiki was intended to facilitate the creation of a set of flexible, adaptive AA steps based on a shared understanding of what constitutes a safer alternative to a chemical of concern. In 2010, the IC2’s Alternatives Assessment Workgroup took over support for and maintenance of the Wiki.

In 2011, IC2 members recognized that state resources are not optimized when multiple programs work on the same issue without sharing expertise and results and that a more authoritative resource that standardizes the AA process could enable agencies to share AA results. At that time, eight IC2 member programs (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington) began working together to develop the IC2 Alternatives Assessment Guide. The preparation of the Guide—which involved extensive stakeholder engagement, including three industry workshops, two webinars, and a comment period—occurred over three years. Version 1.0 of the Guide was published in January 2014. The Safer Alternatives Wiki was retired at that time. However, the IC2 has archived the Wiki content. The Alternatives Assessment Wiki Archive is available to help those states new to the AA process to understand many of the drivers and details behind the development of the AA process.