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Responsible automakers manage and track substances of concern in their supply chain

As safety-conscious consumers and governments ask more questions about product ingredients, one of the world’s largest supply chains has moved to the forefront in providing answers.

More than a decade ago, leading automakers banded together to better identify their vehicles' materials. Over several years of development and millions of dollars of investment, they have built a sophisticated database to limit substances of concern in the 30,000 individual parts that make up the average car or light truck.  A significant annual investment of more than $1 million maintains the database.

The result is the Global Automotive Declarable Substance List, or GADSL. It currently lists 2,734 chemicals and substances that either must be declared or that are prohibited from being used in vehicle manufacturing.

“This is our way of managing and tracking substances of concern,” said Filipa Rio, senior manager for environmental affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.  The Alliance represents BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo, and constitutes approximately 80 percent of all auto and light-truck sales in the U.S.

“This is a collaborative process so all the different automakers can see what’s going into their cars,” Rio said. “We support green chemistry goals and are constantly working to make our vehicles more environmentally friendly.” 

Substances or chemicals generally earn a place on the GADSL list when the chemical is regulated or is projected to become regulated by a government agency due to its potential effects on human health or the environment.

“Component manufacturers and suppliers must let automakers know whether a GADSL-listed substance is in their components.  If the substance is prohibited, they can’t use it,” said Rio.

Examples of prohibited substances include the flame retardant pentachlorobenzene, the wood preservative pentachlorophenol, asbestos once used in brakes and gaskets, and many other substances such as vinyl chloride, benzidine and polychlorinated terphenyls.  In all, hundreds of substances are prohibited entirely or limited to concentrations below 0.1 percent by weight.

The GADSL list is reviewed each year by a steering committee that discusses and considers any new information about individual chemicals or substances of interest to the auto industry.  The administrative and financial burdens of managing the system are considerable, industry representatives say, and it can take several years of discussion before a consensus is reached to include a chemical on the list.

GADSL is the result of a decade-long global effort of automobile manufacturers, automotive parts/component suppliers, chemical/plastics industries and information technology partners. All work collectively to facilitate communication and information exchange regarding the use of certain substances in automotive products throughout one of the world’s largest supply chains.