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10.3. Physical environment factors

10.3.2. Chemical agents

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10.3.2. Chemical agents





Asia-Europe Forum


Carcinogenic, Mutagenic and Repro-toxic chemicals


Disability adjusted life years


Dichlorodiphenyl Trichloroethane


Environment Action Program


European Commission


European Chemicals Bureau


European Chemicals Agency


European Environment Agency


Eastern Europe. Caucasus and Central Asia


European Pollutant Emission Register


European Union

European PRTR

European Pollutant Release and Transfer


Statistical Office of the European Communities


Gross Domestic Product






International Conference on Chemicals Management


Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control


Joint Research Centre Management


Major Accident Reporting System


Mild Mental Retardation


National Institute of Health Sciences (JAPAN)


National Toxicology Program


Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development of the North-East Atlantic


Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment


Primary aromatic amines


Polyaromatic hydrocarbons




Brominated flame retardants


Polychlorinated Biphenyls


Polychlorinated napthalenes


Perflourinated substances


Platinum group elements


Persistent Organic Pollutants




Polyvinyl chloride


Community Rapid Information System


Rapid Alert Systems for Food and Feed products


Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals Register




Strategic Approach to international Chemicals


Tolerable Daily Intake


Toxicity Equivalent


United Nations Economic Commission for Europe


United Nations Environment Programme


United States


Volatile organic chemicals


World Health Organisation


World Summit on Sustainable Development


World Trade Organisation Introduction


Chemicals, natural and man-made, are an integral part of our natural and urban environment. The chemical industry provides major contributions to our economic wealth and individual comfort. Europe has a 59% share of world exports and 48.4% of world imports. The European chemical industry is the fourth most important industrial group with respect to economic turn-over. European legislation is distinguishing between different groups of chemicals; industrial chemicals, agrochemicals (e.g. fertilizers, pesticides), biocides and pharmaceuticals. This chapter mainly deals with industrial chemicals but in some instances reference is also made to the other groups. In general, the production of toxic chemicals has increased at almost the same rate as the overall chemical production.


The chemical industry has been growing worldwide and is economically significant in the EU. The production of toxic chemicals has increased at almost the same rate as the total chemical production, and both have grown faster than the GDP. The economic cost of late action — both in terms of remediation of contaminated sites and health impacts — can be high. Implementation of the new EU legislation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) is estimated to result in benefits 2 to 50 times higher than the costs.



Emissions and release of chemicals are not only closely linked to industrial activities in the chemical industry, but also to the use of chemicals in downstream sectors and by the general public. Man-made or industrial chemical substances can be released during every stage of their lifecycle from production (or import) and processing through manufacturing and use (industrial and consumer) to disposal. This can lead to gross pollution (poorly managed industries, contaminated sites, and accidents) as well as diffused releases causing long-term exposure to low levels of chemical mixtures. For substances used in long life articles or construction materials, emissions related to the waste life stage can take place several decades after production and processing of a substance. This is one reason why some substances are still found in the environment or in human tissue even decades after their use has ceased.


The public health relevance of the use of chemicals is extremely difficult to assess, considering both confirmed and perceived impact. The WHO estimates that over 30% of the global burden of disease can be attributed to environmental factors. While currently much of this burden is caused by “traditionalrisk factors such as poor sanitation, contaminated food and infectious diseases, the WHO recently concluded that “emerging” and “modernrisks pose an increasing health threat, particularly to children. The threats include exposure to natural or human-made toxic substances in air, water, soil and within the food-chain, inadequate toxic waste disposal, injuries and poisonings, urbanization,and environmental degradation associated with unsustainable patterns of consumption and development. More recently emerging environmental hazards, such as transboundary contamination by persistent toxic substances, ozone depletion, global climate change and exposure to chemicals that disrupt endocrine function have been identified as potential risks to children’s health at global level(WHO, 2006). The child-focused EU SCALE process (Science, Children, Awareness-raising, Legal instruments, Evaluation) has initially identified four priority groups of diseases: childhood cancer, childhood respiratory health/asthma, neurodevelopmental and endocrine disorders, but the list of potential pollution-induced diseases is much longer and also includes diseases of adults. The European environment and health action programme has taken this into account.


Thre is the need for an integrated approach that accounts for the consequences of the globalisation of chemical production and trade. The European Union adopted in December 2006 the REACH legislation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals), a uniform system for the handling and management of industrial chemicals within the Union. The ultimate objective of REACH is to improve the protection of human health and the environment without impeding on industrial growth and development.


Beyond REACH, emerging or re-emerging problems are appearing, resulting from exposures to low levels of an increasing number of chemicals, often in complex mixtures emanating from the whole life cycle of chemicals. New risks from 'old' pollutants are also becoming evident in the light of increased scientific knowledge and new uses. Globalisation is resulting in a shift of environmental burdens to developing countries, and the re-importation of hazards via trans-boundary pollution and contaminated products.


Figure Life cycle of chemical products

Source: European Environment Agency (2007)




The chemical industry is growing worldwide. This creates economical benefits but also bears risks as chemicals can be released into the environment at all lifecycle stages form extraction, production and use up to their final disposal and/or recycling. Information about hazardous properties and human and environmental exposures is incomplete. Increased consumption leads to increased chemical flow and widespread exposure with potentially adverse impacts on human health and on the environment.


Substances of highest global concern are heavy metals (mercury, lead and cadmium) and persistent organic pollutants. This section will address some emerging chemical stressors further ahead. Food chemical contaminants are only dealt with in Chapter 8.2.2 and not in the present Chapter. Data sources


This chapter is primarily based on extracts from the European Environment Agency (EEA) report Europe’s State of the Environment – the Fourth assessment (chapter on chemicals), and the EEA / Joint Research Centre assessmentEnvironment and health”.  These assessments are based on a wide array of European and global information sourcesComprehensive information is also available at the sources listed below. EEA assessments are peer reviewed and quality checked by scientific experts and policymakers at national authorities and European Commission Services.


·          European Chemicals Bureau This webpage contains chemical databases and as well as links ( to member state competent authorities, other organisations and interested parties and further information


·          Information Exchange Network on Capacity Building for the Sound Management of Chemicals  (will be transferred to the SAICM, Strategic Approach to international Chemicals Management, Secretariat )


·          OSPAR Convention, Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic Convention OSPAR,


·          NIHS, National Institute of Health Sciences (JAPAN)


·          NTP, National Toxicology Program


·          UNEP, United Nations Environment Programme


·          UNEP Global Mercury Assessment (


·          UNEP Stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants ( )


·          UNEP Chemicals, Lead and cadmium ( )


·          The OECD has a significant range of activities related to chemicals; one of the latest is the development of a global portal to information on chemical substances (eChemPortal)


·          The Japanese National Institute for health Science hosts a website, Global Information Network on Chemicals (GINC), which still contains relevant  links though there is  no maintenance for GINC Home page since 2003


In the future the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will be an important information source:

Chemical indicators are under development by EUROSTAT, EEA and Joint Research Centre. Data presentation and analysis


Chemical production


European countries contribute significantly to the global trade in chemicals, which increased by an average of 14% a year between 2000 and 2005 (WTO, 2006a). The EU25 and Switzerland together have a 59% share of world exports and 48.4% of world imports. The EU chemical industry has grown faster than gross domestic product (GDP) over the past ten years, with the production of industrial chemicals increasing by 31% and GDP by 25% between 1995 and 2005 (Figure The production of toxic chemicals25 increased by 23.5%. The substances of high concerncarcinogenic, mutagenic and repro-toxic chemicals (CMR) - increased by 22% (Eurostat, 2006). The annual production of toxic industrial chemicals in the EU25 in 2005, as registered in the Prodcom database, was 212 million tonnes (Figure, 9.3%of which  were in new EU Member States.


The increasing production, trade and use of manufactured goodselectronics, clothing, cars, etc. – account for most of the flows of chemicals in today’s society, and thereby increase the exposure to them of both people and the environment (ASEF, 2006).


Figure Production volumes of industrial chemicals relative to GDP for EU Member States 19952005


Figure Production of toxic chemicals in the EU. Source: Eurostat, 2006 derived from production statistics


Industrial releases


Public information about industrial emissions in the EU has been available via the European Pollutant Emission Register (EPER) since 2004. This is the first register of industrial emissions into air and water, and gives access to information on annual emissions from about 12 000 industrial facilities in the EU25 and Norway ( The EPER review report 2004 reveals that about two-thirds of the 50 air and water industrial pollutants have been decreasing. These include nitrogen pollutants released into water bodies (-14.5%), the various types of phosphorus (-12%) and the emission of dioxins/furans (-22.5%) into the atmosphere. An upward trend can be observed in emissions of certain pollutants e.g. carbon dioxide.

Industrial accidents typically cause acute damage in terms of fatalities, injuries, environmental pollution but also economic losses. Chemical spills can occur as consequences of accidents not only related to the chemical industry but also due to hazardous substances used in downstream industries. Mining is one of the sectors in which major accidents have happened in the past, often associated to the release of high amounts of toxic substances into the environment. (EEA 2003 -Kiev report) Mining is also one of the major economic activities in SEE and the EECAA region, where fuels and mining accounted for 53.5% of all exports in 2004.


Table Some industrial accidents in Europe  


The absolute number of majorSeveso II accidents” (see below) reported for the period 20002005, varies between 20 and 30 per year (EU15) and shows no clear trend. According to a recent progress report from the European commission, EU countries have "further improved" their implementation and enforcement of the Seveso II directive on major accident hazards. There are however weaknesses in the current reporting arrangements. Intensified efforts to improve the situation are needed in the fields of external emergency plans (elaboration and testing) and provision of information to the public (European Commission, 2007).


Globalisation has led to an ‘outsourcing’ of chemical production to rapidly developing regions, e.g. in Asia, also leading to the export of public health problems. 14 of the 16 European companies that belong to the world majors (CEFIC, 2003) – according to their companiesweb pages - have engagements in China, where a series of industrial accidents happened in 2005 and 2006. Chemical spills led to major releases of chemicals into the environment, trans-boundary pollution affecting the water supply of thousands of people in Russia and China.


Diffused and unintentional releases


There are increasing concerns about environmental and health effects of diffused chemical releases arising from consumer products (such as cleaning agents, personal care products, adhesives, paints, spray cans, paper, cloth, plastics, etc) and unintentional by-products from industrial or traffic related combustion. These include persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and polyaromatic hydrocarbons PAH. The United Kingdom Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concluded that diffuse pollution from products is “more pervasive and more difficult to detect and correlate with adverse effects on the environment and human health” than that released accidentally during the production process (RCEP, 2003).


One way of signaling the extent to which consumer products pose a risk to human health is through the EU rapid alert systems. These include the Rapid Alert Systems for Food and Feed products (RASFF) and the Community Rapid Information System (RAPEX) for non-food consumer productscosmetics, clothes, toys, jewellery, etc. Through these two indices the system records the number of health risks reported for consumer products.


Distant impacts of chemical pollution in the pan-European region


Emerging substances and new concerns


New uses, improved analytical methods and increased knowledge of hazardous properties have led to environmental concerns about chemicals that had not previously been regarded as problematic. Other compounds, such as heavy metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and PCBs that have been regulated and monitored for a long time, continue, nonetheless, to pose problems because of their persistence; their use in new technologies including nanotechnology; newly identified exposure routes such as the case of acrylamide in food (EU, 2002; or other concerns, for example pesticide spraying leading to chemical exposure of people living nearby or passing fields (RCEP, 2005).


Platinum group elements (PGEs) and perflourinated substances (PFS) are presented as examples because of their persistence and potential for long-range transport, whlile acrylamide is given as an example because of the history of its detection in food. Brominated flame retardant are discussed in the following section in context with human biomonitoring.


Over the last decades, increasing concentrations of Platinum group elements have been found in different environmental matrices (WHO, 2000; LAI, 2002). The predominant anthropogenic source in Europe is the emission, mainly in the form of small particulates, from car catalysts using Pt/Rh or Pd/Rh. Pd/Rh catalysts that, due to costs, are being increasingly used by the automobile industry may contain up to a factor of four times more active metals than Pt/Rh catalysts (LAI 2002, IPCS 2002, Moldovan et al. 2002). Other relevant sources are dental alloys, electronics, anti-cancer drugs (Pt), catalysts in various industrial applications.


Table Platinum group elements in μg/kg of suspended particulate matter from the river Rhine and tributaries


Table shows levels of platinum group elements (in μg/kg) in suspended matter collected in 2002 in the German state of North Rhine-Westfalia (NRW), in an area that can be regarded as a typical representative of a European industrialised and urbanised region. Water monitoring results between 2003 and 2004 showed an average between 1 and 11 ng/l for Pt with high peaks up to 44 ng/l in most sampling stations in March 2004. These peaks were related to increased amounts of suspended matter due to flooding.

Levels for Pd and Rh were mainly below the detection limit. Identified inputs such as direct discharges from industrial and communal waste water treatment plants, recycling, and (to a lesser extend) road-runoff and discharge from dental clinics did not explain the total amount of PGEs found in surface waters. The authors postulate that indirect discharges as well as atmospheric deposition could be another relevant source. This hypothesis is supported by measurements in rain, fog and dust. (IWW, 2004)


Platinum elements have been associated to aquatic toxicity and human health effects such as asthma, allergies, nausea, increased hair loss, increased spontaneous abortion, dermatitis and other serious health problems in humans (Ravindra et al, 2004). These effects are mainly attributed to the Pt and Pd compounds in their soluble form, especially to halogenated salts, while the metallic form is relatively inert (WHO, 2002; WHO, 2000). It is known from occupational settings that for soluble PT the critical levels for sensitisation can be as low as 0.05μg/m3 air for previously sensitised individuals (WHO, 2000). Sub-populations at risk include people with known nickel allergy because of potential cross-reactions.


The relevance of these hazards at low concentrations is still under debate. However the potential of platinum elements to accumulate in environmental matrices and biological material and the fact that the substances are found in remote areas such as Greenland ice and the Alps (Barbante et al, 1999) - indicating the potential for long-range transport- gives cause for concern.


The EU Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010 identifies four priority groups of diseases or physiological disturbances. These are childhood respiratory disease and asthma, childhood cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders and endocrine disruption. The text below is focused on endocrine disrupting substances and neurodevelopment disorders (see also chapters on air pollution and physical stressors), and finally some bio-monitoring data on lead and POPs, including flame retardants.


Table below overviews some associations between chemicals and human diseases/disorders. The associations are of different degrees of certainty, and the public health impact is often very difficult to assess.


Table health impacts and some associations with environmental exposures to chemicals and other environmental stressors and lifestyle factors (many stressors, like air pollution, POPs, dioxins, pesticides and heavy metals, are under strict regulatory control ).



Health impact

Associations with some environmental exposures

Infectious diseases

water, air and food contamination

climate change-related changes in pathogen life cycle



air pollution (PM), mainly PM2.5  or less

smoking and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)

some pesticides


natural toxins (aflatoxin)

polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, e.g. in diesel fumes

some metals e.g. arsenic, cadmium, chromium

radiation (incl. sunlight)




Cardiovascular diseases

air pollution (carbon monoxide, ozon, PM)

smoking and ETS

carbon monoxide



inhalable particles

food, e.g. high cholesterol



Respiratory diseases, including asthma

smoking and ETS

sulphur dioxide

nitrogen dioxide

inhalable particles (PM2.5 and PM10)

ground-level ozone

fungal spores

dust mites


pet hair, skin and excreta



Skin diseases

UV radiation

Some metals e.g. nickel



Diabetes, obesity

food, e.g. high fat

poor exercise

Reproductive dysfunctions

polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)




endocrine disruptors


Developmental (foetal and childhood) disorders



smoking and ETS


some pesticides

endocrine disruptors

Nervous system disorders



methyl mercury


some solvents


Immune response

UVB radiation

Some pesticides

Increased chemical sensitivity

multiple chemical exposures at low doses

Source: European Environment Agency & Joint Research Centre  (2006). 



Due to the lack of good exposure data and patchy information from environmental health surveillance and epidemiology, the causal relationships for all of the actors is difficult to prove. The impacts are well proven for some stressors e.g. asbestos/cancer, or lead and mercury / neurotoxicity (including neurodevelopmental effects).

For others such as endocrine disruptors no clear conclusions can be drawn regarding their effects on humans.


However, many fundamental physiological functions are similar between animals and humans. Therefore, wild animals can serve as indicators of potential health effects of chemicals in human. Indeed, much of the information in Table is based on observations from wild animals. Wildlife examples have shown that certain human groups can be at increased risk because of their preferential habit for fish consumption and other products from the aquatic environment. Marine mammalian top predators, such as seals, whales, dolphins and polar bears have high levels of POP residues in their bodies obtained through the food chain. A number of physiological effects have been observed in these animals including infertility, immunodeficiency and different types of tissue malformations. These effects have also been reported in humans when body burdens of POPs approach the levels present in wildlife.


Window of vulnerability


A complicating factor when assessing the impact of chemicals on human health is that human vulnerability differs over age. An increasing number of scientific studies indicate the role of exposure during early life stages for a later development of a disease in adult life. For example, Grandjean and Landringan (2006) conclude the flowing concerning neurodevelopment; “Exposure to chemicals during early foetal development can cause brain injury at doses much lower than those affecting adult brain function. Recognition of these risks has led to evidence-based programmes of prevention, such as elimination of lead additives in petrol. Although these prevention campaigns are highly successful, most were initiated only after substantial delays. Another 200 chemicals are known to cause clinical neurotoxic effects in adults. Despite an absence of systematic testing, many additional chemicals have been shown to be neurotoxic in laboratory models. The toxic effects of such chemicals in the developing human brain are not known and they are not regulated to protect children. The two main impediments to prevention of neurodevelopmental deficits of chemical origin are the great gaps in testing chemicals for developmental neurotoxicity and the high level of proof required for regulation”.


A similar reasoning could be applied to the development of cancer where several adult cancer forms can be traced back to environmental exposures early in life. Unfortunately, human data is scarce and we have to rely on animal data. A meta-analysis of animal data identified more than 50 chemicals causing cancer in adult life after perinatal exposure (Barton et al, 2005; EHP, 2006). It is concluded that exposure to chemicals with a mutagenic mode of action during early life increases the susceptibility for developing tumours in later life. Endocrine disrupters represent a case when mutagenesis is not involved. Early life exposure to substances with estrogenic and androgenic activity have been indicated in certain, hormone dependent, cancer forms such as breast cancer in women and testicular- and prostate cancer in men. Testicular cancer is increasing in the European population. The cancer appears in young men aged 20-40, but the cancer process probably already starts during the foetal period or the early years of life, as indicated in an epidemiological study based on men from Sweden and Finland hinting that environmental exposures early in life, probably via the mother, are likely to be major determinants of this disease (Ekbom et al, 2003).


Endocrine Disruptors


Endocrine disruptors are substances that potentially interfere with hormone-dependent functions in the body such as embryonic development, production of sperm, control of the menstrual cycle, the onset of puberty, thyroid function and cancers in hormone-dependent tissues. Worldwide, a decline in semen quality has been observed over the past 50 years but no clear connection to endocrine disrupters has been established. Breast and testicular cancers are increasing in Europe but the connection to endocrine disrupters is weak, at least on the basis of current knowledge. Intensive research on this topic is under way. It must be concluded that environmental endocrine disruption in humans is at present far more a matter of speculation than a demonstrated fact. Much of the basis for concern derives from strong evidence of endocrine disruption in wildlife (EEA, 2005).


Tin organic compounds as one of the best known and documented examples for substances causing endocrine disruption in aquatic organisms (imposex in snails) do also have adverse effects on mammalians at low concentrations. The most sensitive parameter regarding human toxicity is the adverse effect on the immune system; the TDI (tolerable daily intake) for tributyltin oxide is as low as 0.00025 mg/kg bodyweight per day. The main exposure route for humans is food (especially seafood); additional low exposures may come from consumer products e.g. textiles (BgVV 2000, WHO 1990).




A number of chemicals are potentially carcinogenic. They are strictly controlled under the current legislation for preventing human exposure. However, they may reach the environment via diffused sources e.g. in accidental cases, as contamination in products or from natural sources. Arsenic in drinking water and cadmium from diffused sources are environmental contaminants of special concern, because of increasing environmental exposure and of their suspected carcinogenicity.




Mercury at concentrations that are sometimes observed in the environment is well known to have neurodevelopmental effects, for example attention problems, reduced learning ability, and slightly reduced IQ in children. Measures are now being taken globally to reduce, inter alia, prenatal mercury exposure and to ensure that tolerable daily intakes for pregnant women are not exceeded. Important policy work on mercury has been performed in the EU Mercury strategy (European Commission, 2005), and UNEPs Global Mercury Assessment since 2004 (UNEP, 2004).

Lead is an established neurodevelopmental toxicant for humans. Recent studies on the effects of lead in humans suggest that a ‘safeexposure level currently cannot be established. More data on lead exposure of European citizens are necessary and are currently being collected. A ban on leaded petrol has been very successful in lowering blood lead levels in children and adults, which clearly indicates a reduced exposure.




Every European citizen has man-made chemicals in his or her body. Bio-monitoring of different populations clearly shows an increased body burden of some persistent and bio-accumulative substances, but concentrations of other substances are decreasing. Breast milk is a good indicator of human exposure to persistent chemicals in the normal life situation and breast milk is regularly used as an indicator of exposure. The bio-monitoring of different populations clearly shows an increased body burden of some persistent and bio-accumulative substances, although concentrations of other substances are decreasing. As an example, the study summarized in Figure shows decreasing levels of DDT, PCB and HCB, but increasing levels of brominated flame retardants (PBDE).


Figure Persistent Organic Pollutants levels in human milk, Sweden, 19721997


The most systematic information on human POPs is based on three rounds of breast milk analysis studies of dioxins coordinated by the WHO. The first round in 1987/8 included 12 European countries and indicated major differences between countries from lipid-based concentrations (TEq) of ca. 10 pg/g in Hungary to ca. 40 pg/g in the Netherlands. The decrease of concentrations was in the order of 5% or more per year, higher in countries with the highest initial concentrations. More countries joined the second and third rounds, and the results of the fourth round are pending. The present concentrations are about 10 pg/g (range of 5-20) in most countries. There are longer series of measurements from some countries, e.g. Sweden. These show that the decrease started already in late 1970s: the concentrations were then about five times higher than the present levels.


There are much less systematic data on other POPs. Swedish long-term analyses on breast milk indicate a decrease of 90% in DDT and its metabolite p,p’-DDE, and lesser decreases in total PCBs, HCB and polychlorinated naphthalenes (PCN) (figure; note different units for different compounds). As there are no coordinated analyses, data from different countries are difficult to compare. However, all organochlorine pesticide levels in Europe are very low. There have been recent increases in polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) and perfluorinated compounds. Polybrominated diphenylethers now seem to be decreasing due to ban of penta- and octa-derivatives taken up by biota and humans (not yet seen in the graph). (WHO, 2007)


A German study, conducted between 2001 and 2004, found medium concentrations of for S-PBDE of 2.49 ng/g fat which is comparable to the levels reported from Sweden and Finland. The trend reversal however could not be confirmed as the analysis methods were not comparable. Concentrations in human breast milk reported from Italy, Belgium, Norway or the Netherlands for the same period are in the same order of magnitude though slightly higher, while concentration in samples from the UK and the Faroe islands where higher by factor 2-3. (Kalanzki, 2003; Fangstrom, 2004). It is assumed that this difference is due to obligatory treatment of furniture in the UK with flame retardants and the higher consumption of fish and seal in the Faroes (Vieth et al, 2005). Control tools and policies


The past few years have seen the adoption and implementation of important agreements and legislation, both in Europe and globally, that address the safer handling and management of chemicals to protect both human health and the environment.


Emissions of hazardous chemicals from industrial installations and agricultural activities are regulated in the EU by the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive (European Commission, 1996), through the application of an integrated approach, the best available techniques, flexibility and public participation. Details of industrial emissions have to be reported to the European Pollutant Emission Register (EPER) and made publicly available on a website hosted by the EEA.


The Seveso II Directive, adopted in 1996 replaced the original Seveso Directive of 1982, developed following the accidental dioxin release in Seveso in 1976. The Seveso II Directive was broader in scope and introduced new requirements for safety management systems, emergency and land-use planning, and reinforced the provisions on inspections by Member States to prevent risks to the environment and human health from industrial chemical accidents. In 2003, in the light of serious industrial accidents, the Directive was extended to cover risks arising from storage and processing activities in mining – the case of cyanide spill in Baia Mare, 2000; from pyrotechnic and explosive substances – the case of Enschede fireworks accident, 2001; and from the storage of ammonium nitrate and ammonium nitrate based fertilisers – the case of the explosion in a fertiliser plant in Toulouse, 2001 (EC, 2003). The Member States were to comply with the extended Directive by mid-2005.


The current chemicals legislation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) entered into force on 1 June 2007, after many years of debate and negotiation. REACH is seen as the European contribution to SAICM. Its key elements are: equal requirements for new and existing substances; shifting the burden of proof from competent authorities to manufacturers and importers; involvement of downstream users; and better risk communication via chemical safety reports.


In addition, countries across pan-Europe have developed or are in the process of developing national implementation plans for global policies, such as the Globally harmonised system for classification and labelling (UNECE, 2003), the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (UNEP, 2006), the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals (UNEP and FAO, 1998), the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (UNEP, 2001), and the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (UNEP, 1992). However, not all countries have ratified the relevant international conventions.


The Strategic Approach towards International Chemicals Management (SAICM) was adopted by the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) in Dubai on 6 February 2006. SAICM was developed by a multi-stakeholder Preparatory Committee, co-convened by UNEP, the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety and the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals. It provides a policy framework to support the achievement of the goal, agreed at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), for ensuring that by 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.


The Globally Harmonised System (GHS) for classifying and labelling hazardous substances, with a target date of 2008, agreed at WSSD, aims at ensuring that information on physical hazards and toxicity will be available in order to enhance the protection of human health and the environment during the handling, transport and use of chemicals. Future developments


The widespread use of chemical substances without or despite knowledge about their hazards has created several well known problems which in case of persistent substances, substances used in long-life articles, or delayed effects will stay with us for a long time, even after the production of such substances has been phased out.

There is still a lack of data on inherent properties (hazards) as well as on combined exposure from different media, sources of releases and associated risks. Environmental surveillance and epidemiology have to be improved in order to give a better assessment than the present patchy human health picture – and also include the European human health fingerprint in developing countries - and the links to health determinants.


The safe management of chemicals requires the co-operation of many stakeholders in different sectors and a range of different tools (for an overview of the status of ratification and implementation of international conventions see Annex 1). Producers and manufacturers have special responsibilities to which they can respond not only by fulfilling their legal obligations but also by applying the principles of Green Chemistry, (Global) Responsible Care, and (Global) Product stewardship. But legislation on chemicals and legislative tools that ensure environmental quality or health protection from hazardous chemicals are often developed and executed by different authorities, which leaves gaps and results that need to improve interlinkages and co-operation between these authorities.


An integrated approach to sound chemicals management would contain the following elements:

·          the substitution principle, to ensure that hazardous chemicals, products and processes are replaced by safe alternatives;

·          the ‘polluter paysprinciple and economic responsibility for damage and negative impacts on the environment and human health, including corporate liability and compensation;

·          the precautionary principle.


The focus on integration and wider involvement has been strengthened and now needs to be put into practice: IPPC provides an integrated approach for protecting all environmental media and disseminating better technologies. SAICM encourages countries to set up inter-ministerial or inter-institutional arrangements for chemical management, while REACH will actively involve both downstream users and producers for reducing chemical hazards.

These new frameworks for a sustainable management of chemicals will contribute to reaching the UNCED goals. References


Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) (2006): Asia-Europe Environment Forum. See:


Barbante C, et al (1999). Greenland snow evidence of large scale atmospheric contamination from platinum, palladium and rhodium.


Environ Sci Technol 35:835-839, quoted from Ravindra et al. (2004).


Barton, H.A. et al. (2005): Assessing susceptibility from early-life exposure to carcinogens. Environm. Hlth. Perspec. 113, 1125-1133.


Bundesinstitut für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Vetrinärmedizin (BgVV) (2000): Triutylzinn (TBT) und andere zinnorganische Verbindungen in Lebensmitteln und verbraucher nachen Produkten.


European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) (2003): Responsible Care Status Report Europe 2002-2003. Available at:


European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) (2004). Pan-European survey.


CEFIC (2004a). Horizon 2015: Perspectives for the European Chemical Industry.


CEFIC (2005). Facts and Figures (as of January 2005).

Use expected July 2006 update


Ekbom A, et al, (2003): Age at immigration and duration of stay in relation to risk for testicular cancer among Finnish immigrants in Sweden. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 95:123840


Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) (2005). Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 113(9). Available at:


European Commission (1996): COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control.

Available at:


European Commission (2007): Report from the Commission on the Application in the Member States of Directive 96/82/EC on the control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances for the period 20032005. Available at:


European Pollutant Emission Register (


European Commission (2005): Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Community Strategy Concerning Mercury SEC(2005)101). Available at:; See also EU Mercury strategy website:


European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005): Environment and health, NO 10/2005. Available at:


European Environment Agency (2007): Europe’s State of the Environment – the Fourth assessment. [On-line publication available at:]


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