While there is widespread awareness surrounding issues like global warming, recyclability and water shortages, there is less (but growing) insight into human health risks based on exposure to chemicals. Of 85,000 industrial chemicals used in modern day production, only a few hundred have been tested for their impacts on human health. In a world of limited time, resources and money, conducting full in-laboratory evaluations of all of the chemicals used in manufacturing today is simply an impossibility. Yet, according to the 2018 State of Sustainability Report from NMI, there is growing demand for products that support human health and wellness by offering minimal exposure to toxic chemicals. In addition, more stringent legislation is pouring out of the European Union and North America to address the growing concern of human exposure to harmful chemicals.
Companies face a real challenge when it comes to managing exposure risk to toxic chemicals in their products. Some industries use chemicals to ensure their products achieve optimal performance to meet customers' needs. Consider, for example, flame retardant chemicals, used to ensure the safety of products and prevent fire hazards. Or products like sealants and adhesives, which use chemicals to provide durability or quick drying.
Chemicals are a critical tool for innovation, as companies strive to deliver products that meet ever-changing marketplace needs. At the same time, there is no precedent or reference point for the long-term impact that many chemicals have on human health, presenting an enormous safety concern to companies using these chemicals. How are companies supposed to successfully innovate while simultaneously ensuring the safety of their innovations?
Fortunately, technology points the way to potential solutions that can help companies evaluate the toxicity of their products quickly, efficiently and without an exorbitant investment. Emerging solutions in predictive toxicology build large networks of chemicals based on properties such as molecular structure and health endpoint interactions. With machine learning, these systems can predict endpoint behavior of chemicals regardless of whether animal testing has ever been used to evaluate them. Predictive toxicology demonstrates how the sustainability challenges of today will be overcome with the use of emerging technologies.
As the definition of safety expands beyond traditional "fire, shock, casualty" concerns, companies are struggling to effectively test and verify the safety of their products in a variety of areas like privacy, toxicity, human rights abuses through the supply chain and more. Fortunately, toxicity is not the only facet of safety that can be more effectively managed with the use of technology. Consider some other emerging technologies and how they are supporting security:
- IoT wearables collect data on employee safety, health, movement and fatigue before accidents happen on the job.
- Artificial intelligence collects safety information from millions of products over time and predicts likely safety challenges with new product prototypes.
- Digital platforms provide visibility into supply chain partners, their performance record, human rights abuses and quality issues.
- Blockchain transactions are designed to be immutable, providing transparency to prevent problems like counterfeiting and traceability to trigger recalls in cases of food contamination, as an example.
As pressure mounts to monitor and address safety concerns, savvy companies will turn to technology to manage and evaluate safety breaches related to their products.