Chemicals are encountered in almost all areas of daily life. That's why stiff requirements must be imposed to ensure the safe handling of chemicals. The proper handling of chemicals may not constitute a risk to the health of man or to the environment.
However, proper handling requires knowledge of the possible health risks associated with a chemical. In order to define what the "proper handling" of a chemical actually means, there must be awareness of a chemical's properties and it must be known from what concentration upwards these properties can have a detrimental effect on human health. With the help of this knowledge the chemical substance can be classified as "very toxic", "corrosive", "irritant", "genotoxic", "teratogenic" or "carcinogenic" if the studies of the properties have produced these results. In order to inform the consumer, the chemicals are labeled according to their properties and concentrations and instructions on use are given or contact with the chemical is banned completely. The properties of a chemical are determined on the basis of the evaluation of documents or study results which are obtainable from industry, university research or generally accessible literature.
Unfortunately, sufficient knowledge is not available for all chemicals. A consumer is unable to ascertain whether a chemical is really safe when there is no reference to risk, i.e. no labeling or whether there is simply no knowledge about it.
The main features of chemicals testing, assessment, classification and labeling are defined in the Chemicals Act (Chemikalien-Gesetz) and are laid down in greater detail in regulations like the Dangerous Substances Regulations and the Ban on Chemicals Regulations which lay down classifications of dangerous properties and stipulate labeling. This leads to a reduction or, where appropriate, to a ban on the handling of dangerous chemicals. The basis for these national regulations is a series of EU directives.
Assessment of chemicals
In its capacity as the chemicals assessment authority, BfR is responsible for estimating the effect of these chemicals on human health. Chemicals assessment includes
- the assessment of so-called existing substances which were on the market before 18 September 1980,
- the assessment of so-called new substances which came onto the market after 18 September 1980,
- the recording of products on the market classified as dangerous and of products which contain dangerous substances
- the recording of poisoning events in the Federal Republic of Germany in cooperation with the poison control centres of the Länder.
- The focus of considerations is on the consumer who is to be made aware of possible risks by a series of symbols and labeling elements. Furthermore, chemicals legislation also envisages restrictions and bans for numerous substances and preparations which do not normally reach the market as consumer products because of their toxicity or may not be used in consumer products. Consumer protection also involves subjecting chemical products already on the market to more extensive assessment when there are increased incidences of poisonings with the goal of restricting sales or completely banning the product. When assessing new or existing substances recommendations, for example, are issued not to use the substances for the manufacture of consumer products.
- From the legal angle the Dangerous Substances Regulations and the Ban on Chemicals Regulations offer the necessary preconditions for restrictive measures.
Other tasks of BfR in the field of chemical safety are risk communication and the further development of methods for testing chemicals whereby these tests are being further developed by BfR mainly with a view to animal welfare.