On recent updates to Pharos

Akos Kokai | September 04, 2013 | Newsletter

Early this summer, I worked with HBN on various updates and additions to the Pharos Chemical & Material Library. It's worth mentioning the motivation for adding 7 new hazard lists (making a total of 42 in Pharos) and one new RSL (to a total of 13): with these additions, Pharos now includes all the lists that are referenced in the GreenScreen™ for Safer Chemicals. GreenScreen, developed by Clean Production Action, is an open, peer-reviewed, user-applied method for comparative chemical hazard assessment; it is a guide for navigating from data and evidence to useful evaluations of the environmental and health effects of chemicals. Chemical assessments using the full GreenScreen methodology must draw from a variety of scientific data sources, but a subset of the methodology – called the GreenScreen List Translator (LT) – can be applied using certain chemical hazard lists. Pharos users now have access to all of those lists.

A few chemical hazard lists posed some interesting data integration challenges. Among these were lists of classifications according to the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Put forth by the United Nations, GHS is an extensive set of criteria for evaluating specific hazards attributable to chemical substances. GHS provides methods to classify the severity of various hazard endpoints, and also provides systematic hazard communication elements for the labelling of classified chemicals in commerce. For example, if a chemical meets the criteria to be classified as Category 1 for respiratory sensitization, it can be assigned the hazard statement (or “H-statement”) H334 – May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled. Unlike GreenScreen, GHS does not include methods to combine multiple hazard endpoints into an overall rating.

Although GHS is internationally harmonized, it is essentially a set of recommendations meant to be implemented independently by the governments of participating countries. It's up to each country to decide how to implement GHS (e.g. whether or not to assign H-statements), and to undertake the task of obtaining and evaluating the necessary data for each chemical to be classified. Pharos currently contains GHS classifications made by the European Union, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, as well as GHS classifications translated from an almost completely parallel system used in New Zealand. (The United States does not yet have a GHS implementation.) Each of these international agencies has produced differently-organized documents to publish their classification results for thousands of chemicals. It took some effort to transform them all into coherent datasets to add to the CML, but the payoff is an enriched collection of resources for Pharos users.

I was happy to contribute to this update of the CML, because it's a step toward greater synergy between Pharos and GreenScreen – tools that are used for reducing chemical hazards in diverse industrial settings. Now, it's possible to use Pharos to inform GreenScreen List Translator assessments. In the future, GreenScreen LT methodology could be automatically applied to chemicals in Pharos. In a broader context, this synergy touches on the huge potential for organizing online information resources to better support the practice of multi-endpoint chemical hazard assessment and chemical alternatives assessment.