Safe and sustainable chemicals

Producing and using safe and sustainable chemicals is the most favourable strategy to avoid chemical pollution. It includes two main objectives: using safe chemicals while preventing harm to humans and the environment by avoiding substances of concern for non-essential uses, and promoting the development of safe and sustainable chemicals and materials. This covers the development of clean production processes and technologies , and innovative tools for chemicals testing and risk assessments.

Minimise and control the risks

Minimizing and controling the risks from hazardous chemicals includes two objectives: minimising exposure of humans and environment to substances hazardous to health and the environment, through risk management measures and full information to users of chemicals, and promoting modern and smart production processes , as well as safe and sustainable uses and business models . This covers using chemicals as a service , and developing IT solutions for tracking of chemicals.

Eliminate and remediate chemical pollution

Eliminate and remediate chemical pollution includes three main objectives: eliminating as far as possible substances of concern from waste and secondary raw materials , restoring human health and environment to a good quality status , and promoting safe and clean recycling solutions and decontamination solutions. Safe and clean recycling solutions also cover chemical recycling and waste management technologies.

Alerts for products posing a risk to human health and the environment (Indicator)

Key messages: Restricted chemicals in consumer products such as phthalates and lead continue to put humans and the environment at risk. From 2015 to 2023, an average of 870 chemicals related alerts per year were reported to the EU Rapid Alert System. During that period, toys triggered the most alerts for risks to both humans and the environment. The number of alerts is influenced by EU and national initiatives for market surveillance of specific products or substances. This led to a spike of alerts in 2023, linked to a fragrance ingredient for example.

Antimicrobial consumption by food-producing animals in the EU (Indicator)

Key messages: In 2022, the sales of veterinary antimicrobials for food-producing animals in the EU fell by 28% compared to 2018. The reduction represents progress in reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance in both livestock and people, and protecting key water sources from pollutants.

Best available techniques (BAT) to cut the use and impact of hazardous chemicals (Signal)

Key messages: The implementation of best available techniques (BAT) as mandated by the Industrial Emissions Directive ( IED ) has led to less chemical pollution. Work is also under way to further strengthen the BAT approach. The reporting of data under the IED and the European Releases and Transfers Register (E-PRTR)  has also had a positive effect in terms of e.g. sharing information to the public, identifying cleaner production opportunities , and monitoring programmes for cleaner production.

Chemicals in European surface water and groundwater (Signal)

Chemicals in surface water and groundwater are of concern for human and ecosystem health. In the EU-27, only one-third of surface wate r bodies have ‘good’ chemical status. Around 23% of groundwater areas in the EU-27 have ‘poor’ chemical status . A small number of pollutants are responsible. If these were excluded, more than three-quarters of surface water bodies would achieve ‘good’ chemical status.

CLP controls: percentage of compliant cases found in Member States (Indicator)

Key messages: Data show that once risk management measures prescribed by the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation are set up, Member States’ authorities check their implementation. CLP compliance between 2008 and 2019 oscillated between 97% and 73% . The last reporting period (2015-2019) showed a stable level of CLP compliance. The average of 75% in that period is around 10 points lower than values from the previous period.

Compliance with REACH restriction and authorisation measures (Signal)

Key messages : 82% of the products inspected complied with the restrictions set under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals ( REACH ) Regulation based on targeted enforcement projects . The presence of phthalates in toys and cadmium in brazing fillers were the two REACH restriction entries with the highest rates of non-compliance. The non-compliance rate is higher in products which originates from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or whose origin is not known.  High level of non-compliance (up to 40%) with authorisation requirements has been identified in another targeted enforcement project.

Consumption of ozone-depleting substances (Indicator)

Key messages: Substances that can deplete the stratospheric ozone layer are being phased out in the EU . Since 2010, the Ozone Regulation has been successful in reducing consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) , with overall more substances being destroyed and exported than produced.

Ecological risk of pesticides in EU soils (Signal)

Key messages: Chemical pesticide mixtures potentially pose a risk of adverse effects to soil organisms in 14% of the 3,473 sites monitored in the 2018 LUCAS survey. The insecticides imidacloprid and chlorpyriphos and the fungicide epoxiconazole were the main drivers of toxicity for the high-risk sites. All three were withdrawn from the list of approved active ingredients in 2020. Compared to a previous pilot study in 2015, results show no sign of progress towards risk reduction.

EU trends in the use and risk of chemical pesticides (Indicator)

Key message: The use and risk of chemical pesticides in the EU fell by 33% by 2021 compared to the baseline average for 2015 to 2017.

EU trends in the use of more hazardous pesticides (Indicator)

Key message: Use of the more hazardous chemical pesticides in the EU fell by 21% in 2021 compared to the baseline average for 2015 to 2017.

Funding EU projects on safe and sustainable chemicals and materials (Signal)

Key messages: 190 EU-funded projects , coming from four funding programmes throughout a 19-month time frame, were identified as relevant research and innovation (R&I) projects on safe and sustainable chemicals and materials , attracting over EUR 1 billion in EU funding . Most of the active projects are associated with R&I on safe and sustainable production processes and technologies, and chemicals and materials that are safe and sustainable by design. Education and business are the most prominent secondary affiliations. The European Commission advocates a joint effort for a more comprehensive picture and informed monitoring of funding programmes relevant to R&I in safe and sustainable chemicals and materials through e.g. Member State initiatives.

Growth of the EU chemicals market for substances of different levels of concern (Indicator)

Key messages: Use volumes of substances for which there is scientific evidence that they are carcinogenic , mutagenic or reprotoxic (CMR category 1) grew by less than 10% across the EU over the last decade. This compares to use of other (non-CMR) substances which grew by nearly 40%. Over the last decade, the growth in use volumes of CMR substances was about 20% slower than that for less hazardous substances.

Hazardous flame retardants in recycled plastic consumer goods (Signal)

Key messages: Hazardous flame retardants in materials entering waste streams (e.g. electronics waste) and legislation restricting or preventing recycling those materials could present a key barrier to EU circularity goals. There is a need to develop resource-efficient methods for identifying and separating waste containing hazardous flame retardants.

Hazardous substances in marine organisms in European seas (Indicator)

Key messages: Hazardous substances, in particular ‘ legacy substances ’, pollute European seas. In general, concentrations of hazardous substances in marine organisms were low or moderate between 2010 and 2021. However, all hazardous substances exceeded safe limits in some areas. Exceedances were seen most frequently for benzo[α]pyrene , lindane ( HCHG ) and polychlorinated biphenyl ( PCB ). The range of substances monitored is relatively limited.

How pesticides impact human health (Signal)

Key messages: A human biomonitoring survey conducted between 2014 and 2021 found that 84% of samples from the bodies of children and adults across five European countries contained residues of two or more pesticides. Human exposure to chemical pesticides has been linked to an i ncreased risk of several chronic diseases . In Europe, it is not yet possible to estimate the burden of disease linked to current levels of exposure to all pesticides. Expanding human biomonitoring of pesticides will be important to determine safe levels of exposure and assess policy effectiveness in reducing pesticide use and risk.

Human consumption of antibacterials for systemic use in the EU (Indicator)

Key message: Human consumption of antibacterial medication in the EU largely rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, following a drop in their intake between 2019 and 2020. This renews concerns about antimicrobial resistance.

Human exposure to bisphenols (Signal)

Key messages: Bisphenol A (BPA) concentrations in human urine decreased significantly from 2014-2020 according to data from nine European countries. This likely resulted from regulatory measures implemented during the period. Despite this decrease, BPA exposure still exceeds the health based guidance value . Of two possible alternatives to BPA, bisphenol S (BPS) showed a slight increasing trend in concentrations, while bisphenol F (BPF) showed a slight decreasing trend.

Hydrofluorocarbon phase-down in Europe (Indicator)

Key messages: The volume of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) on the EU market has declined markedly since 2014. It has been below the limit set by the fluorinated greenhouse gas (F-gas) Regulation in 2015 in each year since. Between 2020 and 2021, quotas for placing HFCs on the market were reduced by 38% .

Impacts of microplastics on health (Signal)

Key messages: Microplastics are a major emerging pollutant of concern as the chemical compounds within them can pose a threat to human health. While much data is available on the presence of microplastics in the environment, knowledge on the health impacts of microplastics is currently lacking. The European Commission initiated regulatory actions, such as a restriction on the sale of non-degradable and non-soluble synthetic polymer microparticles and of products that contain them. While a number of research projects are ongoing, significant data gaps remain regarding microplastic sources, exposure pathways and levels of concern for humans and the environment.

Industrial chemical releases to air (Indicator)

Key messages: Industrial releases to air from European facilities include chemicals that are hazardous to human and ecosystem health. Industrial releases of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and non-methane volatile organic compounds decreased by 64% and 37% , respectively, between 2010 and 2022. During the same period, releases of the heavy metals mercury , cadmium , lead , nickel and their compounds decreased by 54% , 56% , 79% and 63% , respectively. However, the health costs associated with these emissions remain significant.

Industrial chemical releases to water (Indicator)

Key messages: Releases to water bodies from industrial facilities include chemicals that are hazardous to human and ecosystem health. Releases to water of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates have decreased by 9% and 89% , respectively, since 2010. During the same period, releases of the heavy metals nickel, cadmium, mercury, lead, and their compounds decreased by 39 , 56 , 59 and 64 %, respectively. For many of these pollutants the data suggests that the trend in reductions is levelling off .

Leachate pollution from landfills (Signal)

Key messages: EU legislation has led to less waste in the EU going to landfills, as well as measures to prevent and treat landfill leachate (LFL) . LFL remains a significant environmental threat due to the presence of toxic pollutants that can contaminate groundwater, surface waters and soil if not adequately monitored and controlled. Data on contaminants in LFL is scarce due to limited monitoring requirements. The collection, treatment and monitoring of LFL presents technical and logistical challenges for landfill operators. Existing wastewater treatment plants may not be able to adequately treat such waste streams. Further efforts are needed to reduce waste landfilling, for which a reduction of waste generation is essential.