Global Chemicals Outlook II, 2019

From Legacies to Innovative Solutions: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The Global Chemicals Outlook II – From Legacies to Innovative Solutions: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, mandated by the UN Environment Assembly in 2016, seeks to alert policymakers and other stakeholders to the critical role of the sound management of chemicals and waste in sustainable development. It takes stock of global trends as well as progress made and gaps in achieving the global goal to minimize the adverse impacts from chemicals and waste by 2020. The Global Chemicals Outlook II finds that the global goal to minimize adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020. Solutions exist, but more ambitious worldwide action by all stakeholders is urgently required.

Global Chemicals Outlook I, 2013

Towards Sound Management of Chemicals

The Global Chemicals Outlook: Towards Sound Management of Chemicals was published in February 2013 and assembled scientific, technical and socio-economic information on the sound management of chemicals. It covered trends and indicators for chemical production, transport, use and disposal, and associated health and environmental impacts; economic implications of these trends, including costs of inaction and benefits of action; and instruments and approaches for sound management of chemicals. Decision 27/12, adopted by the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2013, recognized the significance of the findings of the Global Chemicals Outlook.


Chemicals are an integral part of modern daily life. There is hardly any industry where chemical substances are not used and there is no single economic sector where chemicals do not play an important role. Millions of people throughout the world lead richer, more productive and more comfortable lives because of the thousands of chemicals on the market today. These chemicals are used in a wide variety of products and processes and, while they are major contributors to national and world economies, their sound management throughout their lifecycle is essential in order to avoid significant and increasingly complex risks to human health and ecosystems and substantial costs to national economies.

Industries producing and using these substances have a significant impact on employment, trade and economic growth worldwide, but the substances can have adverse effects on human health and the environment. A variety of global economic and regulatory forces influence changes in chemical production, transport, import, export, use and disposal over time. In response to the growing demand for chemical-based products and processes, the international chemical industry has grown dramatically since the 1970s. Global chemical output was valued at US$ 171 billion in 1970; by 2010, it had grown to US$ 4.12 trillion.

Many national governments have enacted laws and established institutional structures for managing the hazards of this growing volume of chemicals. Leading corporations have adopted chemical management programmes and there are now many international conventions and institutions for addressing these chemicals globally. However, the increasing complexity of the background mix of chemicals and the ever longer and more intricate chemical supply chain including wastes reveal varied gaps, lapses and inconsistencies in government and international policies and corporate practices. They feed growing international concerns over the threat that poor management of chemicals pose to the health of communities and ecosystems and over the capacity to achieve the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation goal that, by 2020, chemicals will be produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.

These concerns are important to all countries but are particularly salient in industrializing economies that face pressing needs to achieve development, national security and poverty eradication objectives. Developing countries and countries with economies in transition can learn lessons from the fragmented sector-by-sector chemical management approaches that have characterized conventional chemicals policies in developed countries. To protect human health and the environment and to fully benefit from the value that chemicals can yield, all countries must include in their economic and social development priorities the means to manage chemicals soundly.

Prenatal and childhood exposure to phthalates and motor skills at age 11 years

Using Lipstick, Moisturizers During Pregnancy Linked To Motor Skill Deficiencies In Kids

2019 Study Highlights

  • Prenatal exposure to certain phthalates was associated with lower motor BOT-2 scores measured at 11 years of age among girls.
  • Postnatal exposure to certain phthalates was associated with lower motor proficiency among boys measured at 11 years of age.
  • The association between MEP measured at age 3 and motor performance at age 11 was different among girls and boys.


Previous reports suggest that prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with lower scores on measures of motor skills in infants and toddlers. Whether these associations persist into later childhood or preadolescence has not been studied.

In a follow up study of 209 inner-city mothers and their children the concentrations of mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP), monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP), monoisobutyl phthalate (MiBP), monomethyl phthalate (MEP), mono-carboxy-isooctyl phthalate (MCOP), and four di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate metabolites (ΣDEHP) were measured in spot urine sample collected from the women in late pregnancy and from their children at ages 3, 5, and 7 years. The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency short form (BOT-2) was administered at child age 11 to assess gross and fine motor skills.

The total number of children included in the study was 209. Of the 209 children, 116(55.5%) were girls and 93 were (45%) boys. Among girls, prenatal MnBP(b=−2.09; 95%CI: [−3.43, −0.75]), MBzP (b=−1.14; [95%CI: −2.13, −0.14]), and MiBP(b=−1.36; 95%CI: [−2.51, −0.21] and MEP(b=−1.23 [95%CI: −2.36, −0.11]) were associated with lower total BOT-2 composite score. MnBP (b= –1.43; 95% CI: [–2.44, –0.42]) was associated with lower fine motor scores and MiBP(b = –0.56; 95% CI: [–1.12, –0.01]) and MEP (b = –0.60; 95% CI: [–1.14, −0.06])was associated with lower gross motor scores. Among boys, prenatal MBzP (b = –0.79; 95% CI: [–1.40, −0.19]) was associated with lower fine motor composite score.

The associations between MEP measured at age 3 and the BOT-2 gross motor, fine motor and total motor score differed by sex. In boys, there was an inverse association between ΣDEHP metabolites measured in childhood at ages 3 (b = –1.30; 95% CI: [–2.34, −0.26]) and 7 years (b = –0.96; 95% CI: [–1.79, −0.13]), and BOT-2 fine motor composite scores.

Higher prenatal exposure to specific phthalates was associated with lower motor function among 11- year old girls while higher postnatal exposure to ΣDEHP metabolites was associated with lower scores among boys. As lower scores on measures of motor development have been associated with more problems in cognitive, socioemotional functioning and behavior, the findings of this study have implications related to overall child development.

Research communication. Press release. Image

Toxiques légaux, d’Henri Boullier

Comment les firmes chimiques ont mis la main sur le contrôle de leurs produits

Depuis les années 1960, d’ambitieux dispositifs réglementaires promettent de contrôler les produits chimiques auxquels nous sommes exposés quotidiennement. Pourtant, les rares « interdictions » prononcées sont systématiquement assorties de dérogations permettant de continuer à les utiliser. Pourquoi les États semblent-ils incapables de prononcer des décisions fermes ? Comment la commercialisation de substances toxiques est-elle devenue « légale » ?

Ce livre montre comment les grandes entreprises chimiques ont inscrit dans le droit l’impossibilité d’interdire leurs molécules, si toxiques soient-elles. Depuis 2006, le règlement REACH encadre leur commercialisation en Europe. Ce texte promettait de résoudre la méconnaissance des effets de dizaines de milliers de substances présentes sur le marché et d’améliorer leur contrôle. Finalement, les entreprises sont au cœur de la fabrique de l’expertise et les agences publiques se retrouvent à évaluer les risques de produits pour lesquels elles n’ont aucune donnée solide. En suivant la trajectoire de trois molécules dangereuses – un sel métallique, un solvant et un plastifiant –, l’enquête de l’auteur montre comment REACH organise leur maintien sur le marché.

L’histoire retracée dans ce livre est caractéristique de la manière dont certaines grandes réformes contemporaines masquent en fait un désengagement de l’État sans précédent. L’expertise est externalisée, les données fournies sont insuffisantes, les procédures dérogatoires multiples. Les firmes maîtrisent, plus que jamais, les ressorts de cette bureaucratie industrielle.


Do Harmful Chemicals in Health and Beauty Products Make Uterine Fibroids Grow ?

Phthalates exposure and uterine fibroid burden among women undergoing surgical treatment for fibroids: a preliminary study

A pilot study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility suggests that exposure to certain harmful chemicals called phthalates may lead to an increased burden of fibroids, uterine tumors that can cause heavy bleeding, pain, infertility, and other serious reproductive problems.

2019 Study Abstract

To examine the association between phthalate exposure and two measures of uterine fibroid burden: diameter of largest fibroid and uterine volume.

Pilot, cross-sectional study.

Academic medical center.

Fifty-seven premenopausal women undergoing either hysterectomy or myomectomy for fibroids.


Main Outcome Measure(s)
The diameter of the largest fibroid and uterine dimensions were abstracted from medical records. Spot urine samples were analyzed for 14 phthalate biomarkers using mass spectrometry. We estimated associations between fibroid outcomes and individual phthalate metabolites, sum of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate metabolites (∑DEHP), and a weighted sum of anti-androgenic phthalate metabolites (∑AA Phthalates) using linear regression, adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, and body mass index. Fibroid outcomes were also examined dichotomously (divided at the median) using logistic regression.

Most women were of black ethnicity, overweight or obese, and college educated. In multivariable models, higher levels of mono-hydroxyisobutyl phthalate, monocarboxyoctyl phthalate, monocarboxynonyl phthalate, mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, mono(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl phthalate) (MEHHP), mono(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate (MEOHP), and mono(2-ethyl-5-carboxypentyl) phthalate (MECPP), ∑DEHP, and ∑AA Phthalates were positively associated with uterine volume. Associations were most pronounced for individual DEHP metabolites (MEHHP, MEOHP, MECPP), ∑DEHP, and ∑AA Phthalates. For example, a doubling in ∑DEHP and ∑AA Phthalates was associated with 33.2% (95% confidence interval 6.6–66.5) and 26.8% (95% confidence interval 2.2–57.4) increase in uterine volume, respectively. There were few associations between phthalate biomarkers and fibroid size.

Exposure to some phthalate biomarkers was positively associated with uterine volume, which further supports the hypothesis that phthalate exposures may be associated with fibroid outcomes. Additional studies are needed to confirm these relationships.

The George Washington University press release.

Components of plastic : experimental studies in animals and relevance for human health

You are what you eat, and drink


Components used in plastics, such as phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), are detected in humans. In addition to their utility in plastics, an inadvertent characteristic of these chemicals is the ability to alter the endocrine system. Phthalates function as anti-androgens while the main action attributed to BPA is oestrogen-like activity. PBDE and TBBPA have been shown to disrupt thyroid hormone homeostasis while PBDEs also exhibit anti-androgen action. Experimental investigations in animals indicate a wide variety of effects associated with exposure to these compounds, causing concern regarding potential risk to human health. For example, the spectrum of effects following perinatal exposure of male rats to phthalates has remarkable similarities to the testicular dysgenesis syndrome in humans. Concentrations of BPA in the foetal mouse within the range of unconjugated BPA levels observed in human foetal blood have produced effects in animal experiments. Finally, thyroid hormones are essential for normal neurological development and reproductive function. Human body burdens of these chemicals are detected with high prevalence, and concentrations in young children, a group particularly sensitive to exogenous insults, are typically higher, indicating the need to decrease exposure to these compounds.

General Conclusions

Exposure of humans to pharmaceuticals is deliberate, with the intention of achieving a desired effect. Development and testing of medications involves a series of evaluations culminating in human clinical trials before marketing is approved. This is quite different from the situation with chemicals, whose presence in biota and humans is inadvertent. In the field of toxicology, information regarding potential human health effects is mainly derived from experimental studies and, when available, from epidemiological studies. Difficulties are not only encountered with extrapolation from animal models to humans, but epidemiological studies are also thwarted by drawbacks such as controlling for confounding factors. In particular, subjects are exposed to an assortment of chemicals on a daily basis and, often, lack of data regarding the extent of exposure at what may have been the critical time frame. One of the goals of toxicology is to identify effects in animal models with the aim to lower the risks of negatively impacting human health. Implicit in this task is that toxicological data, derived from animal studies indicating a potential for adverse effects, serve as a basis to limit exposure before effects appear or are confirmed in humans. The evidence from animal studies on single exposures to the chemicals discussed here suggests the potential for risk to human health. Moreover, data derived from co-exposure studies support the contention that the assortment of chemicals to which we are exposed on a daily basis increases the likelihood of health effects. The high prevalence of body burdens of these chemicals and simultaneous exposure to a number of substances, in conjunction with the fact that the highest concentrations have been demonstrated in the developing young, a sensitive subpopulation of society, indicate the need to decrease the exposure to these compounds.

Read the full study (free access) on NCBI PubMed, 2009 Jul 27.

How chemicals can affect the health of developing children

There is an increased concern about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, especially their interference on the thyroid gland

The impact of such chemicals on thyroid hormone levels, especially those of pregnant women during the first three months of pregnancy, may result in neurodevelopmental diseases, autism and IQ loss in the unborn child.

Barbara Demeneix, Professor from the French National Museum of Natural History, explains why these chemicals affect the signalling of thyroid hormones and what we can do to protect our children.

Video published on 7 February 2018, by EUchemicals.

What are you putting on your baby? Or on your genitals?

Sanitary pads and diapers contain higher phthalate contents than those in common commercial plastic products

2019 Study Highlights

  • Three VOCs and 4 phthalates were measured in commercial sanitary pads and diapers.
  • Air in the packages of sanitary pads and diapers contained as high as 5.9 ppb of VOCs.
  • Sanitary pads and diapers contained as high as 8,014.9 ppb of phthalates.
  • VOCs and phthalates contained in the commercial products considerably vary among the brands.


Sanitary pads and diapers are made of synthetic plastic materials that can potentially be released while being used. This study measured the amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (methylene chloride, toluene, and xylene) and phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP, and BBP) contained in sanitary pads and diapers. In sanitary pads, 5,900- and 130-fold differences of VOC and phthalate concentrations were seen among the brands. In the diapers, 3- and 63-fold differences of VOC and phthalate concentrations were detected among the brands. VOC concentrations from the sanitary pads and diapers were similar to that of the residential air. However, phthalate concentrations of sanitary pads and diapers were significantly higher than those found in common commercial plastic products. As sanitary pads and diapers are in direct contact with external genitalia for an extended period, there is a probability that a considerable amount of VOCs or phthalates could be absorbed into the reproductive system.


A policy of pollution prevention is clearly preferable to pollution control

REACH, animal testing, and the precautionary principle

Video published on 21 November 2012, by Dove Medical Press.

Read REACH, animal testing, and the precautionary principle, 10/2017.


REACH, animal testing, and the precautionary principle

In drug, EDCs, chemical safety tests, using one species to represent another simply doesn’t work

Abstract, 2012

Relatively little is known about the toxicity of the many chemicals in existence today. This has prompted European Union regulatory authorities to launch a major chemicals testing program, known as Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). Although the driving force behind REACH is ostensibly based on the precautionary principle, in practice, the evidence suggests that it is oriented more toward risk assessment than precaution. In addition, the test methods used to assess chemical risk also raise questions about the efficacy of REACH in achieving its stated aims of protecting human health and the environment. These tests rely in large part on animal models. However, based on empirical evidence and on well-established principles of evolutionary biology and complex systems, the animal model fails as a predictive modality for humans. In turn, these concerns raise significant ethical and legal issues that must be addressed urgently. Immediate measures should include a major biomonitoring program to reliably assess the chemical burden in European Union citizens as a means of prioritizing the most dangerous substances present in the environment. Blood and urine biomarkers are useful tools with which to implement biomonitoring and to help guide public policy. An ecological paradigm, based on pollution prevention, rather than pollution control and risk assessment of individual chemicals, represents a superior strategy, to prevent global chemical pollution and toxicity risks to human health.

Reference. Image theecologist.