The current lack of information on the safety of chemicals on the market as well as the amount of hazardous substances being released into the environment during use and disposal of chemical products will pose a major challenge to policy makers over the next two decades. These are key conclusions of the report entitled Environmental Outlook for the Chemicals Industry just issued in support of broader OECD work on the environmental pressures from key economic sectors like the chemicals sector reflected in OECD's Environmental Outlook. Environment Ministers will meet in Paris on 16 May 2001 to address these concerns and to agree on the "OECD Environmental Strategy for the first decade of the 21st Century" to deal with them.
The global chemicals industry is an important part of the world economy. With an estimated US $1500 billion in sales in 1998, it accounts for 7% of global income and 9% of global trade and employs more than 10 million people worldwide. Chemicals produced by the chemicals industry are present in countless products used by consumers, from pesticides and automobiles to toys and clothing. The future industry will look very different than the one today. Global production will be 85% higher in 2020 than in 1995 and non-OECD countries will be much greater contributors to this production than today. Further, the output in OECD countries will primarily be in technologically advanced products such as specialty and life sciences chemicals, with non-OECD countries leading in the production of high volume basic (commodity) chemicals.
What will be the impact of these trends? The report examines the wide range of past and current policies designed to manage risks posed by the production and use of chemicals, and the key safety issues for the future. Despite considerable improvement over the last three decades in the control of toxic substances released to the environment during the production of chemicals, concern is growing about chemicals detected in the environment which are persistent, can bioaccumulate and/or are toxic. In response, the Outlook indicates there is a need for:
more information to fill the significant gaps in knowledge about the characteristics, effects and exposure patterns of chemicals on the market;
a greater focus on the types and amounts of chemicals found in consumer products and released to the environment during use and after final disposal;
more involvement of stakeholders (the public, workers and industry) in the chemical safety assessment and management process;
a greater focus on the chemical safety infrastructure in non-OECD countries.
The report is available for downloading, free of charge, from the following web site: http://www.oecd.org/ehs.