Time to Break the “Lock-In” Impediments to Chemicals Management

Despite enormous national, regional, and global efforts on chemical management, the widespread use of hazardous chemicals continues in many parts of the world even after decades of there being well-known risks to public and/or ecosystem health. This continued supply and use, despite strong evidence of negative impacts, is not unique to chemicals management. In the field of climate change, the concept of “lock-in” has been used to explain the complex interactions among economic, social, technological, and political dynamics that reinforce global reliance on the extraction and use of fossil fuels. Learning from carbon “lock-in” phenomena, this Perspective explores the challenges of chemicals management from the perspective of lock-in through three case studies: paraquat, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and asbestos. These case studies illustrate that most current chemicals management frameworks fail to address the concerns arising from this complex interplay by not involving all relevant stakeholder groups that are part of lock-in, from producers to consumers. This results in a relatively narrow consideration (e.g., only demand but not supply) of the effectiveness and consequences of regulations. We submit that to break lock-in and address the global threat of chemical pollution, current approaches to managing hazardous chemicals should be broadened to take a comprehensive approach to understanding and managing factors contributing to lock-in, notably both supply and demand on national and international scales.

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