Product design screening method helps reduce toxic materials in consumer goods

15 April 2013

Product manufacturers and designers increasingly consider not only the performance and cost of the materials used in a product, as has traditionally been the case, but also whether the materials are potentially hazardous to human health and the environment. Hazard-based toxicity screening of materials is a simple method which can be used to reduce the toxic content of manufactured products. Such screening is especially suitable for complex products made up of many components and materials, for example, electronics and other high-tech goods.
This study highlighted the use of the Fraunhofer Toxic Potential Indicator (TPI) to score the toxicity potential of different materials used in consumer products. Materials in utility meters with some of the highest toxicity scores were identified as polymers: acrylonitrile-based materials, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and buna-N nitrile rubber, and PVC. Stainless steel was also identified as having a high toxic potential, due to the nickel and cadmium content, which workers are potentially exposed to during the production process.
In addition, components that contained significant amounts of stainless steel and the potentially carcinogenic acrylonitrile- and PVC-based polymers were considered to have the highest toxicity potential. Possible alternative materials with lower TPI scores were identified to replace those with high toxicity potentials. For example, aluminium materials were considered suitable alternatives to stainless steel, and high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene were suggested as viable replacements for PVC and ABS (Science for Environment Policy: European Commission News Alert, 11 April 2013).