Hazardous chemical substances can cause serious harm to the environment and human health. Although emissions from many dangerous chemicals have dropped in the EU, exposure to substances with unknown effects remains high.   

What is the latest on hazardous chemicals and health?

Europe continues to manufacture and use a large variety of chemicals that are hazardous to human health. People are exposed to complex mixtures of chemicals in their daily lives by consuming contaminated food and drink, breathing in polluted air and dust, and using consumer goods.

While Europe is making important progress towards its 2050 ambition of reducing pollution to levels no longer harmful to health and natural ecosystems, further efforts will be needed to eliminate all negative impacts.

Our zero pollution monitoring assessment takes a closer look at both the production of chemicals and their health impacts.

Actions for sustainable and safer chemicals

  • Promoting chemicals that are safe and sustainable by design, harnessing the innovative capacity of the chemical industry to provide technologies, materials and products that are non-toxic, low-carbon and fit for circularity;  

  • Phasing out uses of harmful substances that are not essential. Harmful chemicals should be used only when they are necessary for health and safety or if critical for the functioning of society and if there are no acceptable alternatives; and 

  • Managing the risks of chemicals in groups, rather than one by one, to expedite the protection of citizens and the environment.  

Do you want to learn about the health impacts of chemicals?

The Human Biomonitoring Initiative for Europe (HBM4EU) fact sheets explain possible health effects of chemical exposure, how they might enter our bodies, and how we can reduce exposure.

Assessing future chemical risks

The Human Biomonitoring Initiative for Europe (HMB4EU) investigated the potential health effects of chemical exposure to 18 chemical substances and groups.

With consideration for citizens, factsheets and infographics on these chemicals were developed and show possible health effects of chemical exposure, how they might enter our bodies, how we can reduce their exposure and the legislation that exists to protect the citizens.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Risks in Chemicals (PARC) will follow HBM4EU in its legacy to protect humans and the environment from chemical exposure. Started in May 2022 for seven years, the partnership aims to drive innovation in chemical risk assessment and allow chemicals to be used and managed more sustainably.

Our knowledge in this area is limited. But with more chemicals being found in the environment, an improved understanding effects will effects will help the EU to ensure safe chemical use.

Mercury: in water and our bodies?

Despite being mined and used for thousands of years, mercury poses significant risks to the environment and human health. These risks have come to light in recent decades, and the EU has taken measures to minimise use.

Mercury’s properties mean that once it is released into the environment, it can be around for thousands of years. It can travel long distances by air and it is particularly dangerous in water, where it is converted into a more toxic form called methylmercury, which animals easily absorb. Eventually, it moves up the food chain and can reach our dinner tables.

Mercury presents a particular and significant risk to the neurological development of foetuses, newborn babies and children.

In recent decades, most EU countries banned or limited mercury use and imposed emissions limits. Unfortunately, mercury from coal burning is still prevalent in significant parts of Europe, and overall mercury limits are not reflected as much outside Europe. Globally, emissions have been increasing from coal burning, gold mining and other activities.

The United Nations' Minamata Convention on Mercury provides a consistent, global approach to reducing mercury use, releases and impacts.

However, even with immediate global action, it will take a very long time for mercury in the environment to decline to pre-industrial levels.

More information