Design for reduced exposure to hazardous substances

Call for research proposals

This post is also available in Swedish

The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) invites research groups, jointly with relevant stakeholders in the community, to submit proposals for a new research programme. The submitted proposals should address significant environmental problems faced by society, with an emphasis on developing long term solutions. The focus of this call is to use various design tools and concepts to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals.  The research should aim to bring about the efficient use of resources over the entire life cycle of products and the chemicals they contain, and to foster ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development.


Our industrialised and urbanised society has made huge improvements concerning pollution of the environment and everyday exposure to hazardous chemicals. Still, there is a need to improve the situation to provide a better environment for all the people and other organisms of the planet.

One can assume that, perhaps with the exception of pesticides and certain medicines, the toxicological properties of chemical substances found in products are not intentional. The properties are rather the result of insufficient consideration during the development phase for a product and a limited understanding of toxicology amongst many of the chemists involved in developing new substances. Similarly, the use of some very reactive and therefore, hazardous chemicals is unavoidable. The presence of residues from these chemicals is an inadvertent consequence of their use.

By introducing new design concepts into the development of new products it may be possible to avoid or greatly reduce exposure of people and the environment to hazardous chemicals. Reducing risks and hazards to zero, while commendable as a vision, is probably unattainable in practice. Society must decide on an acceptable level of risk and work towards achieving this. The communication of risks and risk concepts to the general public is a major challenge and should be addressed in the proposal. Researchers need to provide policy makers with sufficient reliable data, perhaps coincidental with new tools and concepts, for risk assessment.

The problems associated with exposure to hazardous chemicals can be broken down into a wide variety of categories covering sources, types of chemicals, hazard categories, exposure timing, and many more. For the purpose of the current call for research proposals, both human- and ecotoxicological aspects of exposure in working, living, outdoor and natural environments should be considered.

background paper to present the potential and limitations of a research programme on reducing exposure to hazardous chemicals through the design process was prepared by an international expert group (Appendix 1). This paper is intended to highlight some interesting areas and to instigate discussion.


The research proposal should focus on using the design process to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals from both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives including an emphasis on technical developments ranging from new untested ideas to advanced concepts. For example, chemists designing new compounds need to understand how they will interact with users and the environment, preferably with the help of predictive tools, while product developers need to have access to this information in order to avoid inadvertent risks. There is already a volume of knowledge and experience with great relevance in connection with the development of pharmaceuticals. This can be adapted and extended for studies relevant within the confines of this call.

Areas of concern for exposure should include working and living environments as well as natural environments. The chemicals of concern can have been released unintentionally, through accidents and spills or as a consequence of their presence in commercial products or intentionally, as is the case with pesticides, cleaning materials etc. A successful research proposal could consider processes designed to reduce exposure to chemicals where the effect is immediately apparent, acute toxicity, or where there may be an effect due to repeated exposure over an extended time period, which could lead to chronic toxicity due to bioaccumulation or to increased occurrence of chronic effects such as cancer or similar diseases.

The programme should lead to the invention of new technologies which introduce less hazardous chemicals into products. Technologies should be extended to aid the removal of hazardous chemicals during recycling processes, leading to benefit throughout the value chain. These design processes will require a broad understanding of toxicology and environmental sciences by chemists and chemical engineers whilst requiring a greater knowledge of chemistry among scientists dedicated to toxicology and the environment. This interchange highlights the need for interdisciplinary collaboration and could be reflected in how the subject matter is presented in future education programmes.

Tools for prediction and measurement of the effects of exposure to chemicals, combinations of chemicals (cocktail effects) and products will aid in refining the design process. Experience from the pharmaceutical industry may be particularly interesting in this context.

The relevance and expected impact of the programme on the United Nations sustainable development goals must be addressed.

The proposal must clearly define the environmental problems which are to be addressed including an account of how the research results are expected to contribute to problem solution. Benefits for the environment at home, the workplace and the field as well as the natural environment should be described together with relevance for Swedish competitiveness.

The programme must contain the following research areas:

  1. Design

The central theme of this call is the design process as a driver to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals. This process needs to cover all stages in the life cycle of chemicals from the extraction and refining of raw materials, through chemical processing, use in everyday products to recycling and end of life treatment. The result of effective design will be increased chemical economy and reduced hazard, each contributing to the health and well-being of the populace and the environment while helping to close various resource loops in the circular economy.

  1. Life cycle management

In a programme aimed at solving the environmental problems related to exposure to hazardous chemicals there must be methods for monitoring progress, such as life cycle analysis. There is a need for such analysis to map where, when and to what extent exposure occurs and to propose the measures which need to be taken. This should be coupled to an assessment of the risks involved and related to how the problem should be solved.

  1. Materials management

Within the concept of green chemistry there is a demand for molecular economy. Product value chains should be designed for maximised economy of atom use. Furthermore, the use of catalytic systems will contribute in this matter. The effective use of chemical resources will be a major contributor to a circular economy.

  1. Hazard screening

The concepts of danger, hazard, risk and exposure are important in forming the basis for decisions on which products are allowed on the market. Decisions made using the current legal system are based on data obtained for single compounds. There is, however, a need to look more closely at how products are judged in this context taking mixtures of compounds into consideration. The combined effect (cocktail effect) of two or more compounds are not necessarily additive and may lead to greater negative impact than expected, synergy, to a reduced effect, or to no effect at all. Similarly a product may be designed so that there is no exposure to the substances in question. These aspects should be taken into consideration in the development of future methods for safety assessment of products. Products should, by design, not leak substances into living, work or the natural environment.

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The programme should be planned to take four years but have an eight-year perspective. The programme should result in some form of permanent structure at the host institution. It is expected to be interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary. It is very important to involve business, government agencies and other partners right from the planning stage and onward throughout the whole research process. Sector and interest organisations may also be engaged with the programme. The programme is expected to contribute relevant knowledge and establish skills needed for an internationally competitive Swedish industry.

Dialogue, sharing of experience and, where relevant, collaboration among Mistra programmes are expected.

Who can apply?

This call addresses research groups in all academic disciplines working at Swedish higher education institutions, research institutes, government agencies and companies, as well as product designers in the business and public sectors and civil society. Researchers and organisations active outside Sweden may participate, but the principal applicant and planned programme host must be a Swedish organisation.

The host organisation and other organisations taking part are expected to be coordinated in a consortium and to submit a joint proposal.

Special conditions

  1. Co-funding at 30 % of the total programme budget from stakeholders is required. The co-funder’s contribution may be partly in kind, such as staff involved to assist in the programme. The co-funding requirement is based on experience showing that commitment and integration in the programme are enhanced when more than one organisation contributes resources. The co-funding expected must be reported in the proposal and attested with a certificate from the planned programme host.
  2. Current rules concerning indirect costs: see Appendix 2.

Application process and review

The programme proposal must be written in English, except for a summary in Swedish. It should comprise the following parts and appendices, and must comply with the specified page limits. If the proposal exceeds any of the page limits it will not be processed. No other appendices other than those specified below may be attached.

The main part of the proposal (a maximum of 40 pages) must include the following parts:

Summary in English and Swedish

  1. Relevance for specific environmental problems
  2. Vision, aims and expected impact
  3. Scientific value of the programme including state-of-the-art
  4. Benefits of the programme to society
  5. Organisation of the programme
  6. Skills and networks
  7. Description of component projects
  8. Deliverables
  9. Communication
  10. Budget (use the budget template, Appendix 3).

The following appendices must be attached:

  1. CVs for up to 10 key people (maximum of one page per person)
  2. Certificate from planned programme host.

Note that the programme proposal must clearly specify the following: (a) preliminary programme title, (b) planned programme host, (c) planned programme director and (d) contact person for the proposal, with full contact details.

Although 40 is the maximum number of pages for the main part of the proposal, reaching this number is not a target as such. Writing concisely and readably is in every applicant’s interest. If approved, the proposal will serve as the basis of a programme plan to be used for programme implementation.

A certificate should be attached to the proposal confirming that the planned programme host (and also the main applicant) is prepared to assume the role of hosting the programme and to make the requisite resources available, and also accepts Mistra’s rules regarding indirect costs. The planned programme host must also certify that pledges on co-funding have been obtained and match the revenue budget reported. This certificate must be signed by the Vice-Chancellor, Chief Executive or equivalent (or the person appointed by the Vice-Chancellor or Chief Executive in his or her stead).

It should be noted that heading a Mistra programme is normally a full-time commitment and that every programme is expected to have a communicator. Read the section on managing Mistra programmes at (under “Research”),

Mistra intends to award research funding for one (1) of the programme proposals submitted. It is not possible to apply for funds for individual projects within the scope of this call.

Note that Mistra is subject to GDPR legislation and to the principle of public access to official records. This means that all documents received by Mistra, including proposals, are public. On certain conditions, information may be treated as confidential. Personal data included in a submitted research proposal will be treated in accordance with the relevant legislation. Submission of a proposal is considered as approval for such treatment.

The proposal should be sent as a single PDF file (including appendices) by email to:, to reach Mistra not later than Monday March 4, 2019 at 4:00 pm.

Evaluation criteria

All the proposals will be evaluated according to the following criteria, in which the potential for solving environmental problems and the expected contribution to sustainable development are crucially important:

  1. Approach, i.e. how far the programme has a central, coherent idea and an innovative direction, how well the aims are formulated and how well the anticipated impact is reported (including indicators).
  2. Scientific quality, i.e. how well the programme meets the high requirements in terms of skills, theoretical standards and methodological quality.
  3. Benefits, i.e. how well developed the collaboration with users of the research results is (and is expected to be) and which supportive communication processes and methods will be used to attain effective implementation.
  4. Management and organisation, i.e. the manner in which the programme will be integrated in the host organisation, how it will be governed and structured, and to what degree it will make efficient use of resources.
  5. Competitiveness, i.e. the ways in which the programme has the potential to help promote Sweden’s competitiveness and prosperity in a broad sense.

Time schedule

October 2018 – Call opens
4 March 2019 – Call closes
March – May 2019 – Evaluation of proposals
June 2019  – Award decisions taken by Mistra’s Board
September 2019  – Programme start (preliminary)

Christopher Folkeson Welch, +46-(0)707-323074,