The non-assessed chemicals in EU

August 13, 1996

Report and recommendations from an interdisciplinary group of Danish experts.


About 15 years ago the American National Research Council reported, that no information was available about the possible toxicity of 80 % of the more than 50.000 industrial chemicals in use in the USA. Simultaneously, from Europe it was informed that a vast majority of the more than 100.000 chemicals which by the European Commission had been registered as marketed within the EU, had never been subjected to investigations or evaluations for effects on health and environment, e.g. toxicity, carcinogenic properties, global and/or local effects on the environment etc. Any such investigation is technically, scientifically, temporally and economically demanding, and because of the size of the problem, societies were facing a large – almost insurmountable problem.

In the spring of 1995, the Danish Board of Technology decided to initiate a review process dealing with the still unsolved problem of non-assessed, existing chemicals. An expert working group was established to perform a review which should describe/analyse the problem in order to ‘promote the understanding and submit the problem to debate’. The Danish Board of Technology asked the question whether:

‘… the many non-assessed chemicals pose a risk of a ticking bomb, which constitutes a latent threat to the health of human beings and/or the environment ?’

and the working group was requested

to focus on the non-assessed, existing chemicals and to evaluate proposals for strategies towards more fast and earlier investigations of them. The consequences of such strategies should be part of the considerations of the working group, and possibly a plan of action or elements of such plan should be suggested for presentation and discussion in a public debate – primarily in a forum of political decision-makers and interested parties, but possibly also calling upon a broader interested and informed public.

In its review work, the working group should deal not only with the possibility of achieving a highest possible reduction in the workload required for the assessment of chemicals. It should also consider possibilities for reduction of toxic or environmental risks that might result from the use of chemicals.


The working group consisted of:

  • Finn Bro-Rasmussen, professor, The Technical University of Denmark (DTU) (chairman).
  • Helle Buchart Boyd, senior consultant, food scientist, The Danish Center of Toxicology (ATV/DTC).
  • Christian Ege Jørgensen, environmental planner, Centre of Alternative System Analyses, (CASA)
  • Preben Kristensen, head of department, ATV Institute of Water Quality (ATV/VKI)
  • Elle Laursen, MD, medical specialist, The National Board of Health,
  • Hans Løkke, PhD, director of research, Department of Terrestrial Ecology, National Environmental Research Institute (DMU)
  • Kjeld Mann Nielsen, group leader, Directorate of the Danish Working Environment Service,


  • Johs. Grundahl, project manager representing the Danish Council of Technology.


All members of the working group were appointed individually, and viewpoints expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of their respective institutions.

From the spring of 1995 and until the spring of 1996, the group held 9 meetings during which actual problems were identified and taken up for examination. It was agreed that a final report should refer to the procedures of notification and assessments of marketed chemicals as these had developed during recent years, now being expressed in legislation and administrative practice in the EU. It should thereby refer to schemes of classification, priority setting, and hazard and risk assessments of chemicals.

The result of this work is presented in this report which was first written in the Danish language. In practice, the report was developed chapter by chapter by group members, individually or in pairs, whereafter these chapters were dealt with editorially and merged into the final report. It is noted therefore,

  • in principle, that such consensus creating process may imply that evaluations and joint statements can occur which does not necessarily and in all aspects cover every individual viewpoint held by the working group members,


  • in practice, some overlaps may be found in the report, either resulting from an effort to present single chapters as individually readable, or in order to avoid any suppression, resp. removal of single evaluations or individual viewpoints.


The working group has not attempted directly to answer the question originally raised by the Danish Council of Technology, whether the many non-assessed chemicals is in fact ‘a ticking bomb’ which constitute a latent threat to human health and/or the environment. It is felt, however, that discussions and recommendations presented in the report, indirectly do give comments and possibly also some answers to the question.

A summary of the report, including discussions of individual chapters and recommendations are collected in the first part of this report. This part is prepared by the working group on the basis of a joint interpretation of the state-of-the-art as described in Chapters 1-6. The first drafted report was presented before a ‘midway seminar’ and subjected to a detailed discussion arranged by the Danish Board of Technology at Sørup Herregård on 12.-13. March 1996. Corrections and proposals which emerged from this seminar and afterwards accepted by the working group, have been made part of the final report in the Danish language and as it now reads in its English version.

The Danish Board of Technology and members of the working group use this opportunity to thank and to express appreciation to all Danish and Nordic experts who accepted to take part in the Midway seminar. With contributions from all sides, an intense and constructive debate was initiated already on the basis of the first drafted report. This will hopefully create and further stimulate the continued interest in the problems raised.

The Danish Board of Technology

April 1996,

(eng. edition: August 1996)