Part four of this four-part article is a sidebar on the EPA’s Safer Choice program.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice label, formerly known as Design for the Environment, was created to help users purchase products that are safer for both people and for the environment. But for a product to earn the Safer Choice label, it must undergo the EPA’s rigorous evaluation process.
First, the product’s primary manufacturer — the owner of the chemical formula — submits for review everything from the supplier of each chemical ingredient to performance data. The Safer Choice program is also pretty unique in that it makes a point of requiring an ingredient disclosure on the packaging, online or by a 24/7 phone number, says Bridget Williams, Ph.D., outreach lead for Safer Choice.

Once all of that information is submitted, the review process can begin. The materials go first to a third-party reviewer, contracted by the primary manufacturer. Then the EPA reviews the product.

If everything checks out, the EPA then signs a partnership agreement with the primary manufacturer. The EPA also allows for one-step private labeling, so, in the case of Solutex, Inc., which sells most of its chemicals as a private brand, Solutex is also considered a partner.

The EPA is careful not to reveal a primary manufacturer’s specific chemical formulas, so, in some cases, chemical ingredient nondisclosure agreements between the manufacturer and the distributor may preclude the involvement of the distributor in the review process.

“We protect trade-secret information very carefully here at EPA,” says Williams.

In Solutex’s case, involvement was necessary. Since the distributor private-labels so many of its products, President Charles Moody needed to provide Solutex’s product labels with ingredient disclosures to the EPA. The EPA doesn’t require each exact chemical ingredient to be listed, but rather the chemical family of each ingredient.

The Safer Choice designation only lasts for three years, after which it must be renewed.

“That’s because new data are always developed,” says Williams. “So when we review a chemical today, in three years’ time, we want to check and make sure that it still meets our criteria for human health and environmental safety.”

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