Environmental policy tools and evaluation

The costs and benefits of regulating chemicals


Chemicals are used in every product and play an important role in the everyday life of people around the world. Such products provide protection for crops and increase yields, prevent and cure disease, and provide countless other benefits that make life better for people. However, chemicals need to be soundly managed to avoid risks to human health and the environment.

The OECD has worked with governments and industry since the 1970s to improve chemical safety and biosafety and also to harmonise approaches to their assessment and management in order to save resources for both government and industry.

More recently, the OECD has been involved in the so-called SWACHE and SACAME projects to support the socio-economic analysis of chemicals by helping to better quantify and monetise their morbidity and environmental impacts.

The SWACHE Project

SWACHE stands for the Surveys on Willingness-to-Pay to Avoid Negative Chemicals-Related Health Impacts.

Assessment of chemicals management options and environmental policies can be considerably improved by better estimating their costs and benefits as demonstrated by the findings of the SACAME project.

Therefore, the OECD has set up the SWACHE project to establish internationally comparable values for the willingness-to-pay (WTP) to avoid negative health effects due to exposure to chemicals. The health effects valued include asthma, fertility loss, IQ loss, chronic kidney disease, and very low birth weight.

The field implementation of the surveys will start in 2021.

The OECD encourages the surveys to be implemented in many countries as possible and welcomes requests from additional countries who are interested in implementing the surveys.

The OECD also invites countries to provide financial support for the field implementation of the desired surveys (see contacts below).


Table 1: Example of health effects valued in SWACHE


Source: OECD (2016), "Asthma and COPD prevalence", in Health at a Glance: Europe 2016: State of Health in the EU Cycle, OECD Publishing, Paris,; Bikbov, B., Purcell, C. A., Levey, A. S., Smith, M., Abdoli, A., Abebe, M., ... & Ahmadian, E. (2020). Global, regional, and national burden of chronic kidney disease, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet, 395(10225), 709-733; UNICEF-WHO Low birthweight estimates, 2019.


The SACAME Project

SACAME stands for the Socio-economic Analysis of Chemicals by Allowing a better quantification and monetisation of Morbidity and Environmental impacts. The project examined the current available methodology for economic valuation for chemicals, including the challenges involved. This was followed by the illustration of these approaches in a number of case studies including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its salts, mercury, phthalates, 1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) and formaldehyde (see working papers below).

The SACAME project supported the socio-economic analysis of chemicals by helping to better quantify and monetise morbidity and environmental impacts and built on the OECD’s work on quantifying the social costs of environmental externalities, particularly in recent years on The Cost of Air Pollution. The work was carried out jointly by the OECD’s Joint Meeting of the Chemicals Committee and the Working Party on Chemicals, Pesticides and Biotechnology as well as the Working Party on Integrating Environment and Economic Policies.

Under a number of national legislations for managing chemicals, socio-economic analysis is an established method that informs decision-making and the selection of policy options for managing chemicals for which an environmental or human health risk has been identified. These actions can include banning, restricting or other approaches applied to manage the manufacture, import, use, release or disposal of a specific chemical.  Socio-economic analysis can also support justification of the value of investment of public funds in operating chemical management systems.


Working Papers

All OECD Environment Working Papers can be consulted here



30-31 August 2017

Health Canada hosted a workshop on Best Practices in Assessing the Social Costs of Selected Chemicals that was held in Ottawa.


Through the sharing and analysis of concrete case studies, this workshop had the objective to discuss best practices in assessing the social costs of management of selected chemicals including both private costs (such as costs to business) and externalities (such as the cost to society of environmental pollution). The workshop focused mainly on valuation of the benefits to society of managing chemicals but also include discussion of the valuation of the costs to business in the context of the case studies. Five cases were discussed (mercury containing compounds, formaldehyde, phthalates, PFOA and salts, NMP).

6-8 July 2016 The European Chemicals Agency hosted a workshop on the Socioeconomic Impact Assessment of Chemicals Management  - Experiences, methods and information requirements for quantifying the costs and benefits of regulating the risks related to chemicals, in Helsinki, Finland.

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The workshop aimed to identify the current status of practice and methodologies for cost-benefit analysis of risk management measures and frameworks addressing the human health and environmental impacts of chemicals in OECD Member Countries. It focused on the methods currently used across jurisdictions and intergovernmental organisations.

This workshop was hosted by the European Chemicals Agency, with funding contributions from the European Commission, the European Chemicals Agency and the American Chemistry Council.


For more informaiton, please contact our experts from the OECD Environment Directorate:

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With the financial assistance of the European Union

The OECD SWACHE project has received the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.