Designing Safer Products is No Accident

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By David DiFiore

I am the grandchild of an Italian immigrant, Olimpia Viglione, who, as a young woman keeping house for a living, severely damaged her lungs cleaning floors with harsh chemicals. As a result, she spent most of her life suffering with lung congestion and chronic bronchitis, often struggling to breathe.

EPA’s public health mission is something that strongly attracted me to the Agency. After learning the ropes of chemical evaluation and management in EPA’s New Chemicals Program, two colleagues and I had an idea: Why not evaluate chemicals we use every day, like those in cleaning products, as we do new chemicals?…and why not partner with companies interested in innovation and offer them recognition in exchange for making safer products? That idea had traction and eventually grew into the Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program.

Do you recognize this symbol?

It is EPA’s label for safer chemical-based products. Products that carry the label must perform well and contain the safest possible ingredients, advancing EPA’s public health and environmental mission. DfE carefully reviews all products submitted for this special recognition against the stringent human and environmental health requirements in its Standard for Safer Products. Once a product passes the test and bears the label, consumers and institutional purchasers are empowered to select products that are safer for their families and pets, clients and co-workers, and the planet.

DfE-labeled products contain no carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants or chemicals that cause other harmful effects, including, close to my heart, lung effects and asthma. It’s comforting to know that because of labeled products other housekeepers and custodial workers need not suffer as my grandmother did. By replacing chemicals of concern with safer ingredients, labeled products reduce human and environmental exposures to potentially hazardous chemicals by hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

Close to 2500 products now carry the DfE label in an array of sectors, from all-purpose cleaners and laundry detergents to floor, carpet, car and boat care products. You can find a complete list of DfE-labeled products.

About the author: David DiFiore is a senior project manager in the Design for the Environment Program. He is a founder of the Safer Product Labeling Program and passionate about the potential of green chemistry to drive product innovation.