Chemicals management statistics
From Statistics Explained
- Data from October 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
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 two indicators developed and compiled by Eurostat that cover the production of industrial chemicals.
Main statistical findings
Total production of chemicals
Figure 1 shows the development of EU-27 and EU-15 chemical production in terms of the level (or quantity) of output. The production of chemicals is largely concentrated in western Europe: Germany was the largest producer in the EU-27 in 2011, followed by France, Italy and the United Kingdom and these four Member States collectively generated nearly half of the EU-27’s chemical production; adding Belgium, the Czech Republic, Spain, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and Finland, the overall share of these eleven EU Member States was 88 %.
EU-27 production of chemicals increased continuously between 2002 and 2007, rising overall by 9.7 % to reach a peak of 362 million tonnes. 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.
Production of environmentally harmful chemicals
Figure 2 presents the development of the production of environmentally harmful chemicals, broken down into five environmental impact classes. The aggregated production of these five classes of chemicals in the EU-27 grew by 10.1 % overall between 2002 and 2007 to reach a peak of 194 million tonnes. Production fell by 32 million tonnes (or 16.5 %) during the next two years to a low of 162 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, resulting in a level of output of environmentally harmful chemicals (188 million tonnes) that was 3.1 % lower than the peak of activity in 2007.
The share of environmentally harmful chemicals in total EU-27 chemical output has not changed significantly over the last ten years: their share stood at 53.4 % in 2002 and rose modestly to 54.2 % in 2011 (reaching a maximum of 55.5 % during the intervening years). However, there was a wide degree of variation in the development of output for the different classes. The largest increases in EU-27 output (in relative terms) between 2002 and 2011 were recorded for chemicals with significant chronic effects (production rising by 70.6 % over the period considered), while there was also growth in the output of chemicals with severe chronic effects (17.4 %). Chemicals with a lower environmental impact – those with chronic effects and significant acute effects – saw almost no change in their level of output during the period under consideration, while there was a 12.2 % reduction in the production of chemicals with moderate chronic effects.
Production of toxic chemicals
Figure 3 presents the development of production quantities of toxic chemicals, broken down into five toxicity classes. The pattern of output developments for toxic chemicals followed the same basic trend observed for environmentally harmful 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, and finally almost no change in production in 2011.
The EU-27’s production of toxic chemicals (all five toxicity classes together) increased by 6.8 % between 2002 and 2007 to reach a peak of 218 million tonnes. Production fell by 15 million tonnes in 2008 (or by 7.0 %) 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 made up for the losses in output recorded in 2009 and following a slight reduction in production in 2011 the level of output for toxic chemicals stood at the same level as it had in 2008 (203 million tonnes).
The overall share of toxic chemicals (all five classes) in total EU-27 chemicals production followed a very gradual downward path over the last ten years. From a peak of 61.9 % of total chemicals production in 2002, the share of toxic chemicals fell (despite a temporary rise in 2009) to 60.5 % in 2010 before falling substantially to 58.7 % in 2011. The overall reduction in this share may be attributed to output levels for toxic chemicals remaining largely unchanged between 2002 and 2011 (-0.5 %), while there was an expansion in the production of non-toxic chemicals (13.9 %) and this also underlies the substantial fall in the share of toxic chemicals in 2011 when there was only a relatively modest fall in the level of their production. The time series from 2002 to 2011 therefore 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 14.3 %) 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.
The relative share of CMR chemicals in total EU-27 chemical production fell from a peak of 10.8 % 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. A more detailed analysis shows that most CMR chemicals were produced in lower quantities; however, the production of chlorine compounds, such as vinyl chloride, compensated for these reductions.
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 aggregated, in both cases, to 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.
The production of environmentally harmful chemicals is 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.
The production of environmentally harmful chemicals monitors any developments in shifting production from more environmentally harmful to less environmentally harmful chemicals; the indicator focuses on aquatic toxicity. It 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 production 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. Aggregated production quantities of toxic chemicals may be broken down 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.
This indicator monitors any developments in shifting production from more toxic to less toxic chemicals and addresses 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 runs from 2002 to 2012, requires a complete overhaul of EU policies on chemicals management. It is intended that REACH shall 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 these chemicals in combination are examined.
Further Eurostat information
- Environmental statistics and accounts in Europe – Statistical book 2010
- The REACH baseline study – 5 years up-date - Comprehensive study report - 2012
- The REACH baseline study – 5 years up-date - Summary report - 2012
- The REACH baseline study – A methodology to set the baseline for REACH and monitor its implementation, June 2009
- The REACH baseline study – A tool to monitor the new EU policy on chemicals - Statistics in focus 48/2009
- Public health
- Sub-theme: DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH
- 9. Index of production of toxic chemicals, by toxicity class (QP)
- Public health
- Environment statistics, see:
- 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)
- European Chemicals Agency – ECHA
- European Commission – Enterprise and Industry – REACH
- European Commission – 6th Environment Action Programme