Toxics Substitution in Maine

This webpage is the result of a workgroup charged with facilitating toxics substitution in Maine. The group recognized that one complication in effective toxics substitution was the large number of resources and lack of organization of those resources into meaningful context. The group found that there are many sites dedicated to listing the hazards of substances, and few that outline safe substitutions. The real lack is sites that combine this information in one place for specific industries, for specific use or which tell the researcher how to use the substitute for a particular purpose. Such work would involve chemical engineers and the review of many possible and specific uses. That type of work was beyond the resource capacity of the workgroup. This page only attempts to link known resources to facilitate the substitution process. Resources are constantly being added and changed. To obtain the most up-to-date information, use a search engine to look for resources on  .gov (government) and other authoritative sites. As always, use online information with caution.

Substance Emergencies

If you are involved in an event resulting in an immediate chemical burn or loss of consciousness, it is important you or someone else immediately contact local authorities at 911 to contain the exposure and mitigate personal and environmental consequences. Get to safety and give 911 and responders details about the condition of anyone involved, and the environment with any potential continued exposure. Try to minimize further contact through evacuation and distance if/where possible.

If you do not have direct knowledge of the hazard, the authorities will contact the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and any other authorities or companies that may have jurisdiction or knowledge regarding the exposure and containment needs.

If a victim is still active/alert, and the hazard exposure is under control, you can contact the Northern New England Poison Center (NNEPC) at 1-800-222-1222. The NNEPC can look up the substance or material in their database and tell you how to best mitigate the effects of exposure. This is true for personal as well as business exposures, and whether the exposure is through contact, inhalation, or ingestion. This phone number should be made readily available at home and in the workplace.

As for substituting and preventing emergencies in the first place, there are many helpful resources for researching. Listing some of those resources is the primary purpose of this page.

Why Substitute?

Businesses can be held accountable for exposures under the U.S. OSHA general duty clause, holding the employer responsible for toxic exposures, both immediate and long-term. The OSHA general duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires that each employer furnish to each of its employees a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

Under the NIOSH Hierarchy of Control model "Elimination” and “Substitution” are the two most effective means of eliminating a hazard in the workplace.  

Hazards can be the result of transporting, handling, using or disposing of the item or substance.

In addition to common, known hazards like caustics, some substances have been designed with extreme qualities for potency and duration. For example, tooth floss that will not break and sponges that will not wear out will also exhibit those same resilient qualities when disposed of. You may hear these substances referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down into common and harmless substances in the environment. Because of their inability to chemically breakdown, these substances may physically breakdown and/or be ingested and accumulate in human organs and creatures in the food chain to unknown consequences. A positive quality for the item’s use may prove to be a negative and dangerous quality for disposal. It is therefore desirable to know possible, more common alternatives to these substances and materials so that you, as a consumer or producer, can evaluate any risks and choose wisely.  

A substitute may not have all the qualities needed in every situation and it is wise to be scientific about your substitution process and carefully experiment. You can get into trouble substituting and need to do so carefully, especially if doing so in large quantities or situations where highly reactive substances are involved.

This site offers resources, most free of charge, for educating yourself on toxics substitution and processes for doing so safely in production. As with all chemical and reactive situations, be cautious and vigilant about potential dangers you may put yourself and others in. Even common household cleaners like bleach can be mishandled and create a hazard as evidenced by the deadly incident at the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Burlington Massachusetts in November 2019.

Internet Resources

The sites in the following categories are online resources helpful towards the process of toxics substitutions in the workplace. Please contact us if you experience issues accessing resources on this page as sites may update links, content, and organization.

Some businesses have specific and specialized requirements for situations, such as sterilization in health facilities and pest eradication in schools. You may need to check with the authorities that regulate those situations for specifics on requirements and cautions. Pesticides are restricted by Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Local governments may also have restrictions.

Request a Material Data Safety Sheet which outlines specific issues with safety. To do so you can search online for the product brand name and “Material Safety” and the item should come up with a Material Data Safety Sheet that you can consult. Packaging may have information on exposure risks and precautions.

There are careful and safe ways to introduce substitutions to your workplace and processes:

This chemical inventory is OSHA's premier one-stop-shop for occupational chemical information. It compiles information from several government agencies and organizations. The information available on these pages includes:

  • Chemical identification and physical properties;
  • Exposure limits;
  • Sampling information;
  • Additional resources.

U.S. National Institute of Health
Good for detailed information on use, hazards, and referrals to studies on chemicals and chemical compounds. Quickly find chemical information from authoritative sources.

Visuals for evaluating the personal and environmental risks and exposure prevention of specific chemicals and substances.

Solvent Substitution Software Tool, PARIS III, is a desktop/laptop application that allows users to find mixtures of solvents with specific physical and chemical properties that also have relatively low environmental impacts. The software helps users find replacements for solvent mixtures that are currently being used in industrial processes but have dangerous environmental side effects. The software can also be used to find solvents with lower environmental impact when designing new industrial processes, as well as more benign solvents that can be added to harmful solvents favored by industry to help reduce the harmful environmental impact of their processes. The website includes a user manual and links to download and install the software to multiple platforms.

These sites appear to be very technical. Some require registration or cost.

Please note if you visit EU websites, you may need to change the language to English. Note the “EN” in the links below. If the link opens a page in another language, you can select “English” in the top right corner of these pages.