Aiding alternatives assessment with an uncertainty-tolerant hazard scoring method

J Environ Manage. 2016 Nov 1;182:111-125. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.07.028. Epub 2016 Jul 25.

Abstract

This research developed a single-score system to simplify and clarify decision-making in chemical alternatives assessment, accounting for uncertainty. Today, assessing alternatives to hazardous constituent chemicals is a difficult task-rather than comparing alternatives by a single definitive score, many independent toxicological variables must be considered at once, and data gaps are rampant. Thus, most hazard assessments are only comprehensible to toxicologists, but business leaders and politicians need simple scores to make decisions. In addition, they must balance hazard against other considerations, such as product functionality, and they must be aware of the high degrees of uncertainty in chemical hazard data. This research proposes a transparent, reproducible method to translate eighteen hazard endpoints into a simple numeric score with quantified uncertainty, alongside a similar product functionality score, to aid decisions between alternative products. The scoring method uses Clean Production Action's GreenScreen as a guide, but with a different method of score aggregation. It provides finer differentiation between scores than GreenScreen's four-point scale, and it displays uncertainty quantitatively in the final score. Displaying uncertainty also illustrates which alternatives are early in product development versus well-defined commercial products. This paper tested the proposed assessment method through a case study in the building industry, assessing alternatives to spray polyurethane foam insulation containing methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI). The new hazard scoring method successfully identified trade-offs between different alternatives, showing finer resolution than GreenScreen Benchmarking. Sensitivity analysis showed that different weighting schemes in hazard scores had almost no effect on alternatives ranking, compared to uncertainty from data gaps.

Keywords: Alternatives assessment; Chemical alternatives; Decision support; Functional substitution; Hazard assessment; Toxicity evaluation.

MeSH terms

  • Benchmarking
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Research Design
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Uncertainty*

Substances

  • Hazardous Substances