Study Reveals That the Number of Chemicals Around the World Is Three Times Higher than Previously Thought

A team of scientists from ETH University in Zurich analyzed 22 chemical inventories from 19 countries and regions and discovered that around 350,000 chemicals and chemical mixtures have been registered around the world – three times more than originally estimated. The leader of the study, Zhanyun Wang, presented the results at the virtual annual conference of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). The complete article appeared in Environmental Science and Technology. Along with the article, the publisher also provided additional tables and graphics for download.

In his presentation, Wang said that it’s important to know what chemicals are on the market. That’s the only way to trace their lifecycle and understand their effects on the environment. In the article, the authors explain the origin of the discrepancy in the numbers. Previous estimates have been based on information collected in industrialized countries. However, the manufacture and use of chemicals in developing countries have increased drastically in the past several years.

To create an overview, the authors formulated the following goals:
1. The determination of best-practice solutions that should help countries set up their own chemical
inventories.
2. The creation of a global directory of all the chemicals on the market.
3. The development of technical solutions with which substances can be found unambiguously – even a
minimal difference, like substituting an English word for a Greek symbol, can make it impossible to find a
chemical in a database.
Furthermore, a solution must be found for how to communicate the chemical identity of mixtures; polymers; and substances of unknown or variable composition, complex reaction products, or biological materials (UVCB) clearly.

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