"This (a rubber toy duck) is the perfect example of an innocent-looking consumer product that can be dangerous at the same time" - Linda Molander.
The presence of a yellow rubber duck perched atop a stack of books and articles about hazardous chemicals is what strikes someone about PhD student Linda Molander's office. An environmental scientist's twist to bath time fun, perhaps? "I borrowed the concept from Slow Death by Rubber Duck (a book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie)," says Linda Molander and reaches for the rubber duck. "Looks can be deceiving, right? This is the perfect example of a innocent-looking consumer product that can be dangerous at the same time," she says.
What Linda is referring to is the use of phthalates in plastic toys. Phthalates are widely used to improve flexibility and durability of toys, which is they are usually soft and squeaky. The bad news is that some phthalates have hormone-disrupting properties and could negatively affect human health and the environment when improperly managed. "We come in contact with a cocktail of chemicals every day through consumer products. We need to find better ways to control their use in society," says Linda Molander.
Linda Molander, PhD student at ITM.
Tricky choices 
Making an informed decision about which off-the-shelf product to pick is tricky according to Linda. "Take computer screens, for example," she says as she glances over the large computer screen on her desk. "These products are treated with brominated flame retardants which raise health concerns. Some studies have found relatively high levels of brominated flame retardants in the dust and indoor air around products treated with these compounds." She's hinting at the very room we are in.
Consumers are often in the dark when it comes to what chemicals are found in which products because, for the majority of consumer products, there are no requirements for manufacturer to list the chemicals they use. However, Linda points out that there is some information available out there if you know where to look.
Consumer-oriented tool
In fact, as of last week, one does not need to look far to find such information. Linda Molander and Ellen Ingre-Khans, who did her Master project at ITM, have recently launched Vara utan fara, a free web app to inform and guide consumers about problematic chemicals in different kinds of off-the-shelf products, such as textiles, toys and electronics. 
Vara utan farais a free mobile app optimised for iPhone, Android and Window. Users can look for information under a substance name (Ämnen) or product type (Varor). Users can also contact the manufacturers of specific types of products via the app to request information about chemical stubstances in these products (Fråga om varan). 
Besides general information, the app also provides tips and advice on how to minimise one's exposure to these chemicals. "What we get exposed to and at what degree is affected by what we consume," says Linda Molander. She continues: "We can be exposed to chemicals via direct contact with a product or by breathing in contaminated air and dust.  Small children are particularly vulnerable because they often play on the floor and stuff things in their mouths," says Linda Molander.
The right to know
The app features five categories of consumer products based on those prioritised by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI). These categories include products that consumers use on a daily basis and which often contain hazardous chemicals that can potentially present risks to human health and the environment.  "Besides providing general information, our app allows for consumers to exercise their right to know what is in the products they buy," says Linda Molander. She means that through the app, consumers can contact the suppliers of different types of products to request information about specific chemicals in these products.
Linda Molander and Ellen Ingre-Khans presented the app for the first time atChemicals and the marine environment, a much-anticipated seminar organised by the Initiative Sustainable Seas (Initiativet Hållbara Hav). " Our presentation sparked a lot of interest among the participants," says Linda Molander. She continues: "At the moment, we have a lot of ideas about how to develop the app further but it all depends on getting funding." There are even hopes of releasing an English version of the app one day. 
Linda Molander and Elle Ingre-Khans at the lauch of Vara utan fara on 5 September in Kastellhomen, Stockholm.
As the interview draws to an end, the iconic rubber duck looks more enticing as a cautionary tale than it does as a toy. "The app provides consumers with easy access to up-to-date information about hazardous chemicals in popular products. We hope that the app will contribute to the ongoing efforts to increase consumer awareness around problematic chemicals in our daily lives."