Denmark ups the ante on chemical hazards

Computer modelling suggests tens of thousands of existing substances should be classified as dangerous

Tens of thousands of so-called "existing" chemicals marketed in the EU should probably be classified as dangerous because computer modelling suggests that they present at least one type of hazard to health or the environment, according to Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers.

The current EU dangerous substances list has 5,000 chemicals on it. Recent EPA modelling of just half of the 100,000 existing chemicals on the European Inventory of existing commercial substances (EINECS) suggests that a further 20,000 should be added, the agency's Lea Stine Tobiassen told ENDS Daily. This list would certainly grow if techniques were improved to enable assessment of the remaining 50,000 chemicals or difficult-to-model "end-points" such as reproductive effects.

Still underway, the research was publicised by Danish environment minister Svend Auken earlier this month in a briefing for journalists at the start of the new parliamentary session. The EPA hopes to publish its data in full by around the new year.

The EU is currently preparing for a major overhaul of chemicals policy, sparked largely by extremely slow progress towards assessing risks, and particularly those presented by "existing" chemicals placed on the market before 1981, for which few pre-marketing tests were required. Despite years of work, only nine existing chemicals have completed the full risk assessment process (ENDS Daily 23 May).

Detailed European Commission proposals for new rules, including greater responsibilities on manufacturers to demonstrate safety, were due to emerge this summer but have been delayed, probably to later this year (ENDS Daily 6 June).

The Danish research aims to cut through the time-consuming assessment process by running recently developed "quantitative structure activity relationship" (QSAR) computer models on chemical structures. These models now have an 80% accuracy in predicting whether most organic chemicals are likely to show one or more of the standardised hazard "end-points" used by the EU, Ms Tobiassen said. End-points assessed in the exercise were acute oral toxicity, sensitisation by skin contact, mutagenicity, carcinogenicity and aquatic toxicity.

Several benefits should flow from the new research, the EPA hopes. As well as suggesting how many chemicals on EINECS should eventually be classified as hazardous, it will also help focus more detailed testing on chemicals most likely to be dangerous, Ms Tobiassen said.

The EPA is also keen to support greater responsibility by industry, and plans to publish the list of 20,000 chemicals predicted to be hazardous as an advisory list for self-classification by companies.

Follow Up:
Danish EPA, +45 32 66 01 00.

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