Chemicals management statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from April 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: December 2014.
Figure 1: Production of chemicals, EU-27, 2002–12
(2002 = 100) - Source: Eurostat (tsdph320)
Figure 2: Production of environmentally harmful chemicals, EU-27, 2002–12 (1)
(million tonnes) - Source: Eurostat (ten00011)
Figure 3: Production of toxic chemicals, EU-27, 2002–12 (1)
(million tonnes) - Source: Eurostat (tsdph320)

Work on European Union (EU) statistics concerning hazardous substances started in the mid-1990s when a set of environmental pressure indicators (EPIs) related to chemicals were developed. More recently, a set of indicators to monitor the effectiveness of the Regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH) have been developed. This article presents an analysis of indicators that have been developed and compiled by Eurostat, covering the production of industrial chemicals.

Main statistical findings

Total production of chemicals

Figure 1 shows the development of EU-27 chemical production since 2002, using an index based on the level (or quantity) of output. EU-27 chemicals production increased continuously between 2002 and 2007, rising overall by 9.7 % to reach a peak of 362 million tonnes in 2007. During the financial and economic crisis, production fell by 24 million tonnes (or 6.6 %) in 2008 and by a further 46 million tonnes (or 13.6 %) in 2009. The rebound in activity in 2010 more than made up for the losses reported in 2009 and the production of chemicals in the EU-27 continued to expand in 2011 (albeit at a relatively modest pace), reaching 347 million tonnes, which was still some 15 million tonnes below the pre-crisis peak. In 2012, production fell again, down 22 million tonnes, a fall of 6.3 % compared with the year before; the level of output in 2012 was 325 million tonnes which was the second lowest level during the period shown in Figure 1, higher only than the level of production in 2009. The production of chemicals is largely concentrated in western Europe: Germany was the largest producer in the EU-27 in 2012, followed by France, Italy and the United Kingdom.

In broad terms, the overall production of environmentally harmful or toxic chemicals followed a similar development to that for all chemical products, although by 2012 the production of toxic chemicals had fallen somewhat further than for other chemicals, in part due to a reduction in production in 2011 that was out of line with the growth in output recorded for other chemical products.

Production of environmentally harmful chemicals

Figure 2 presents the development of the production of environmentally harmful chemicals, analysed according to five environmental impact classes. The aggregated production of these five classes of chemicals in the EU-27 grew by 10.2 % overall between 2002 and 2007 to reach a peak of 194 million tonnes. Production of environmentally harmful chemicals fell by 31 million tonnes (or 16.0 %) during the next two years to a low of 163 million tonnes in 2009. As for the overall production of chemicals, there was a strong rebound in 2010, followed by a modest increase in output in 2011, and a further fall in 2012. This resulted in 174 million tonnes of environmentally harmful chemicals being produced in the EU-27 in 2012, roughly the same as had been produced in 2002 and lower than in all intervening years except for 2009.

The share of environmentally harmful chemicals in total EU-27 chemical production has not changed significantly over the last 10 years: their share stood at 53.3 % in 2002 and rose modestly to 53.5 % in 2012, having peaked at 55.8 % in 2009. However, there was a wide degree of variation in the development of output for the different classes of chemicals. The largest increases in EU-27 output (in relative terms) between 2002 and 2012 were recorded for chemicals with significant chronic effects (production rising by 75.0 % over the period considered), while there was also growth in the output of chemicals with severe chronic effects (6.7 %). Chemicals with a lower environmental impact — those with chronic effects and significant acute effects — saw a fall in their levels of output during the period under consideration, as did the production of chemicals with moderate chronic effects.

Production of toxic chemicals

Figure 3 presents the development of production quantities of toxic chemicals, analysed according to five toxicity classes. The pattern of output developments for toxic chemicals followed the same basic trend observed for all chemicals, insofar as output tended to rise during the period from 2002 to 2007, after which there was a rapid fall in production that may be associated with the financial and economic crisis, then a strong rebound in 2010. In 2011, there was a notable difference in developments, as the production of toxic chemicals fell while the overall production of chemicals increased. In 2012, the development in toxic chemicals production mirrored the fall observed for all chemicals.

The EU-27’s production of toxic chemicals (all five toxicity classes together) increased by 6.9 % between 2002 and 2007 to reach a peak of 218 million tonnes. Production fell by 15 million tonnes in 2008 (or by 6.9 %) and by a further 23 million tonnes (or 11.3 %) in 2009 to a level of 180 million tonnes. The rebound in activity in 2010 (up 13.9 %) made up for the losses in output recorded in 2009 but this was followed by a slight reduction (-1.0 %) in production in 2011 and a more substantial fall of 5.4 % in 2012. As a result of these developments, the level of output for toxic chemicals in 2012 was 192 million tonnes, some 12 million tonnes less than 10 years earlier..

The overall share of toxic chemicals (all five classes) in total EU-27 chemicals production followed a very gradual downward path over the 10 years shown in Figure 3. From a peak of 61.8 % of total chemicals production in 2002, the share of toxic chemicals fell (despite a temporary rise in 2009) to 60.5 % in 2010 before declining at a more substantial pace to 58.5 % in 2011 and creeping back up to 59.1 % in 2012. The overall reduction in this share may be attributed to a fall in output levels for toxic chemicals between 2005 and 2006 and between 2010 and 2011 while the level of total chemicals production expanded. Apart from these two years where diverging developments can be observed, the time series from 2002 to 2012 provides little indication that the production of chemicals that are toxic to human health and/or harmful to ecosystems is being significantly decoupled from overall chemicals production.

EU-27 production of the most toxic chemicals — carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) chemicals — fluctuated between 35 million tonnes and 38 million tonnes over the period from 2002 to 2007. Output fell by 5 million tonnes (or 13.5 %) between 2007 and 2008 to 32 million tonnes and remained at this level in 2009. There was a recovery in the level of production in 2010, as the output of CMR chemicals rose to 39 million tonnes — a level that was above that recorded prior to the financial and economic crisis. This level was maintained in 2011 before production levels declined again in 2012 to 33 million tonnes.

The relative share of CMR chemicals in total EU-27 chemical production fell from a peak of 10.9 % in 2004 to 9.4 % by 2008; the majority of this reduction was recorded between 2007 and 2008. Thereafter, the relative share of CMR chemicals increased, notably in 2009 (to 11.0 %) and to a lesser extent in 2010 (to 11.5 %). The most recent information available shows that the share of CMR chemicals in total chemicals production fell slightly to 11.2 % in 2011 and more substantially to 10.2 % in 2012.

Data sources and availability

The indicators presented in this article are derived from annual statistics on the production of manufactured goods (Prodcom). Statistics on toxic chemicals are available from 1995 onwards, while statistics on environmentally harmful substances start in 1996. Note that data for the EU-27 aggregate is only available from reference year 2002 onwards.

The information presented on the production of environmentally harmful chemicals and the production of toxic chemicals has been compiled from detailed product statistics. As well as the total figures, each of these aggregates is available with a division into five impact classes: these classes of environmental impacts and toxicity to human health follow official classifications in EU legislation based on scientific expert judgement. It should be noted that the indicators do not describe the actual risks associated with the use of chemicals, but instead their level of production in quantity terms. Indeed, production and consumption are not synonymous with exposure, as some chemicals are handled in closed systems, or as intermediate goods in controlled supply chains.

Environmentally harmful chemicals are divided into five classes based on their environmental impact. The impacts, beginning with the most harmful, are:

  • severe chronic environmental impacts;
  • significant chronic environmental impacts;
  • moderate chronic environmental impacts;
  • chronic environmental impacts;
  • significant acute environmental impacts.

An analysis of the production of environmentally harmful chemicals can be used to monitor any developments in shifting production from more environmentally harmful to less environmentally harmful chemicals. The classification focuses on aquatic toxicity and seeks to take into account the inherent eco-toxicity of chemical substances, their potential for bioaccumulation and their persistence in the environment. For this purpose, substance specific data on eco-toxicity, biodegradability and bioaccumulation potential have been used. The identification of environmentally harmful chemicals is primarily based on the official environmental classification of substances; certain risk-phrases related to chronic human toxicity are also included.

The indicator on toxic chemicals is a sustainable development indicator within the theme for public health; it is classified as an operational objective and target for the determinants of health. Toxic chemicals may be divided into five toxicity classes. The classes, beginning with the most dangerous, are:

  • carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) chemicals;
  • chronic toxic chemicals;
  • very toxic chemicals;
  • toxic chemicals;
  • chemicals classified as harmful.

An analysis of the production of toxic chemicals can be used to monitor any developments in shifting production from more toxic to less toxic chemicals and thereby address an important objective of REACH: to reduce risks through the substitution of hazardous by less hazardous substances.

In 2009, in collaboration with the Directorates General of the European Commission responsible for enterprise and industry and for the environment, Eurostat published a baseline study providing a set of indicators to monitor the effectiveness of the REACH Regulation. In 2012, Eurostat released an update of this study as well as a summary.


The sixth environment action programme (6th EAP), which ran from 2002 to 2012, required a complete overhaul of EU policies on chemicals management. REACH aims to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment, including the promotion of alternative methods to assess the hazards of substances, the free circulation of substances on the internal market, and the enhancement of competitiveness and innovation in the EU’s chemical manufacturing sector. Through increasing knowledge about the hazardous properties of chemicals, REACH is expected to enhance conditions for their safe use in supply chains and contribute towards the substitution of dangerous substances by less dangerous ones, such that there are fewer risks to human health and the environment.

For this purpose, statistical indicators that provide information on the production of toxic chemicals and chemicals that are harmful to the environment may be used to measure progress towards a number of objectives. These include the headline objective for public health (healthy life years and life expectancy) established under the EU’s sustainable development strategy, alongside the aim of ensuring a high level of protection for human health and the environment.

On 31 May 2012 the European Commission adopted a Communication on the ‘Combination effects of chemicals’ (COM(2012) 252 final) which aims to ensure that risks associated with chemical mixtures are properly understood and assessed — thereby extending the traditional approach of setting limits for the amounts of individual chemicals that are allowed in food, water, air and manufactured products, so that the potentially toxic effects of the combination of chemicals are examined.

The seventh EU environment action programme— referred to as the 7th EAP — was adopted by Decision 1386/2013 of the European Parliament and Council in November 2013 under the title ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’ and will guide the EU’s environment policy up to 2020. One of the three priority areas within this programme is to reduce threats to human health and well-being, for example from toxic chemicals. The 7th EAP proposes to tackle risks associated with the use of chemicals and chemical combinations, including nanomaterials.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Public health
Sub-theme: determinants of health
Index of production of toxic chemicals, by toxicity class (tsdph320)
Production of environmentally harmful chemicals, by environmental impact class (ten00011)
Production of toxic chemicals, by toxicity class (tsdph320)

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links