Underestimated chemical diversity

February 14, 2020

The last time a list was compiled of all the chemicals available on the market and in circulation worldwide, it ran to 100,000 entries. Drawn up shortly after the turn of the millennium, the list focused on markets in the US, Canada and western Europe, which made sense because 20 years ago, these countries accounted for more than two thirds of worldwide chemical sales.

Global market

Things have changed dramatically since then. First, turnover has more than doubled, reaching EUR 3.4 billion in 2017; second, the global west now participates in just a third of the worldwide chemical trade, whereas China alone accounts for 37 percent of turnover. "We broadened our scope to take in the global market - and we're now presenting a first comprehensive overview of all chemicals available worldwide," says Zhanyun Wang, Senior Scientist at the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at ETH Zurich.

Working with a team of international experts, Wang brought together data from 22 registers covering 19 countries and regions (including the EU). The new list contains 350,000 entries. "The chemical diversity we know now is three times greater than 20 years ago," says Wang. This, he says, is primarily because a larger number of registers are now taken into account: "As a result, our new list includes many chemicals that are registered in developing and transition countries, which are often with limited oversight."

Confidential business information

On its own, this comprehensive list cannot provide information about which chemicals are hazardous to health or the environment, for example. "Our inventory is only the first step in the substances' characterisation," says Wang, adding that previous work suggested that some 3 percent of all chemicals may give cause for concern. If you apply this figure to the new multitude of chemicals, 6,000 new potentially problematic substances could be expected, he says.

Far more astonishing for Wang was the fact that a good third of all chemicals have inadequate descriptions in the various registers. About 70,000 entries are for mixtures and polymers (such as petroleum resin), with no details provided about the individual components. Another 50,000 entries relate to chemicals where the identities are considered confidential business information and are therefore not publicly accessible. "Only the manufacturers know what they are and how dangerous or toxic they are," says Wang. "That leaves you with an uneasy feeling - like a meal where you're told that it's well cooked, but not what it contains."

An urgent call for international collaboration

Globalisation and worldwide trade ensure that - unlike national registers - chemicals do not stop at national borders. As Wang and his colleagues note in their article in the journal Environmental Science & Technology the various registers need therefore to be merged if we want to keep track of all the chemicals that are produced and traded anywhere in the world. "Only by joining forces, across different countries and disciplines, will we be able to cope with this ever-expanding chemical diversity," says Wang.
-end-
Reference

Wang Z, Walker GW, Muir DCG, and Nagatani-Yoshida K. Toward a Global Understanding of Chemical Pollution: A First Comprehensive Analysis of National and Regional Chemical Inventories. Environ Sci Technol. (2020) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b06379

ETH Zurich

Related Chemicals Articles from Brightsurf:

Chemicals in your living room cause diabetes
A new UC Riverside study shows flame retardants found in nearly every American home cause mice to give birth to offspring that become diabetic.

'Improvised' decontamination procedures are likely better than nothing for toxic chemicals
If you encounter toxic chemicals, 'improvised' decontamination procedures are likely better than nothing, especially when combining dry and wet removal techniques.

More chemicals can be assessed for endocrine disrupting effects
A European guidance document aimed at identifying endocrine disrupting pesticides can--with some modifications--be used to assess other chemicals' endocrine disrupting effects.

Clean without scrubbing and using chemicals
Dresden scientists have developed a self-cleaning metallic surface. A project team of Technische Universit├Ąt Dresden and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS structured an aluminium plate with a laser process in such a way that water droplets no longer adhere and dirt particles can be removed from the surface - completely without chemical cleaning agents or additional effort.

Certain environmental chemicals linked with poor kidney health
In an analysis of blood and urine samples from 46,748 US adults, elevated levels of seven environmental chemicals were associated with markers of kidney disease.

A possible end to 'forever' chemicals
Synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyls, or PFAS, contain bonds between carbon and fluorine atoms considered the strongest in organic chemistry.

Can I mix those chemicals? There's an app for that!
Improperly mixed chemicals cause a shocking number of fires, explosions, and injuries in laboratories, businesses, and homes each year.

Chemicals in the environment: A focus on mixtures
The real world is marked by multiple stressors, among them cocktails of chemicals.

Screen could offer better safety tests for new chemicals
Using specialized liver cells, MIT researchers have created a new test that can quickly detect potentially cancer-causing DNA damage.

Chemicals for pharmaceuticals could be made cheaper and greener by new catalysts
High value chemicals used to make pharmaceuticals could be made much cheaper and quicker thanks to a series of new catalysts made by scientists at the University of Warwick in collaboration with GoldenKeys High-Tech Co., Ltd. in China.

Read More: Chemicals News and Chemicals Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.