Unknown how many chemicals in global circulation – Swedish regulator

Author: Tom Brown

2021/04/27

LONDON (ICIS)--The problem of ensuring safe management of chemicals is made more complicated by lack of shared knowledge and proper enforcement as well as the growth of e-commerce turning many consumers into importers, according to the director of Swedish chemicals watchdog Kemi.

Despite significant steps taken in the last decade to strengthen the depth of knowledge held by authorities on chemicals properties, no consensus exists on exactly how many chemicals there are in circulation, according to Per Angquist, director of Kemi.

“There are a lot of figures and they vary – we do not really know how many chemicals we have on the global market,” he said, speaking at the Helsinki Chemicals Forum organised by the Chemicals Forum Association in cooperation with the EU's regulator the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and trade group Cefic, among others.

Even murkier is the total knowledge base on hazardous chemicals, despite systems such as the authorisation list within the EU’s Reach framework intended to force the phase out of chemicals deemed hazardous.

“It is only for a limited number [of chemicals] that we have sufficient data on their hazardous properties,” he added.

Differing regulatory frameworks and lack of communication between systems exacerbates knowledge gaps, according to Angquist.

“We have not yet taken appropriate management positions on the national and international level."

The lack of comprehensive knowledge of chemicals in circulation has implications even for regions with more stringent systems such as Reach, with the rise of e-commerce and consumers purchasing items from retailers all over the world reducing clarity on what materials are circulating, he said.

“Trade patterns are changing. Trade is global, and a growing e-commerce [sector] affects the entire society. It also makes private consumers importers … [meaning] private consumers can act directly on a global market and import hazardous chemicals without having the knowledge or getting the information they need to protect themselves and the environment.”