Debunking the Myths: Are There More than 100,000 Chemicals in Commerce?

Mainstream and social media propagate a common refrain that there are more than 100,000 chemicals in commerce and that little is known about their potential health, safety and environmental impacts. Such rhetoric is scaring the public and further eroding trust that government and industry are doing enough to protect them from harm. To investigate this misunderstanding, ICCA and UN Environment worked together to develop a report that improves the understanding of the number of chemicals in commerce and provides stakeholders guidance on where to find and use chemical environmental, health and safety (EHS) information.

What is a “Chemical in Commerce”

Any organic or inorganic substance of a particular molecular identity, including any combination of these substances occurring in whole or in part as a result of a chemical reaction or occurring in nature, and any element or uncombined radical that has been manufactured or processed above 1 metric ton per annum, anywhere in the world, during the past 10 years.

Major Findings of the Report

  • Using the most recent data available from the EU, US, Canada, Japan and China, there are an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 industrial chemicals in commerce globally. Far fewer than is commonly claimed.
  • Approximately 6,000 industrial chemicals account for more than 99% of the total volume of industrial chemicals in commerce globally.
  • There are more than 100 publically available EHS information sources. The report provides detailed profiles of 41 of the largest and most comprehensive of them.
  • 10 of the 41 largest publicly available EHS information sources provide access to EHS regulatory decisions.
  • 7 of the 41 largest publicly available EHS information sources provide users easy access to multiple, third-party owned databases.
  • 24 of the 41 largest publicly available EHS information sources are managed by either inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, or regional or national governments.
  • ECHA’s CHEM is the largest and more comprehensive sources of EHS information with hazard, use, exposure, risk and risk management information available for the 21,000+ (and growing) chemicals produced and imported into the EU.

Myths Vs Facts

FACT: There Are Far Less Chemicals in Commerce than Expected

Conservative estimations taking into account substances listed in the EU, US, Canada, Japan and China, the report concludes there are an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 industrial chemicals in commerce globally. This number is much smaller than the 100,000+ chemicals which are often cited. The 100,000 number includes numerous duplications, as well as chemicals no longer in use. Importantly, approximately 6,000 chemicals in commerce account for more than 99% of the total volume of industrial chemicals in use, globally.

FACT: ICCA and UN Environment Share the Same Goal – Safe Management of Chemicals & Waste

UN Environment and ICCA share a number of important perspectives, objectives and goals. For instance, they both agree that while chemistry provides important benefits to society and is critical to solving some of humanity’s greatest challenges, it must be practiced responsibly. Working together with a host of others and for nearly two decades, they have partnered on the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) whose aim is to achieve sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle so that by the year 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.

FACT: EHS Information Exists for a Majority of High Production Volume Chemicals

There exists EHS information to support varying degrees of screening level hazard and risk assessment for the majority of the highest production volume chemicals. Nevertheless, important gaps in information remain. There is a need for more information to assess hazards for lower production volume chemicals, and better use and exposure information to assess chemical risks overall, particularly in developing countries. Nevertheless, there are several reasons to be optimistic that going forward information gaps can be closed at an accelerated rate. The combined effect of recently adopted legislation in multiple regions and countries (e.g., EU, US, Korea and China) that requires manufacturers and importers to collect and publicly report hazard, use, exposure and risk information on their chemicals; the increasing focus on safe substitution and greener chemistry; as well as the advent and acceptance of new tools and methods (e.g. read across, computational toxicology) provide excellent opportunities to close such information gaps more rapidly than in the past.

Read the Full Study

This study helps by providing an inventory of the available databases of industrial chemicals in commerce that include EHS information. It identifies general issues that may present barriers to gaining the type of clarity that stakeholders seek on these questions and defines, as appropriate, areas where more EHS information is required.

The full study can be read here

The Creation of an International Navigator

Based on the findings from this report, ICCA is calling for the creation of an “international navigator” – a global repository of publically available information on chemicals. ICCA considers data sharing on chemicals as well the implementation of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) key elements needed to improve chemicals management practices at the global level and are a central part of the SAICM process beyond 2020.

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