A new approach to assessing toxic chemical mixtures

A new approach to assessing toxic chemical mixtures


The Commission undertakes to address potential risks associated with chemical mixtures are properly understood and assessed. Every day, we are exposed to mixtures of chemical substances, and these combinations may affect us in ways that the individual substances do not.

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EU laws set strict limits for the amounts of particular chemicals allowed in food, water, air and manufactured products, but the potentially toxic effects of these chemicals in combination are rarely examined. Under the new approach, the Commission will identify priority mixtures to be assessed, ensure that the different strands of EU legislation deliver consistent risk assessments for such priority mixtures, and fill in gaps in the scientific knowledge needed to assess the mixtures.

Environment Commissioner Janez Poto─Źnik said: "EU legislation provides a high level of protection from individual chemicals, but we need to know more about how chemicals act in combination. This is an area of large scientific complexity, but such complexity should not be an excuse for inaction. When we have good reason to believe that a chemical mixture is of potential concern for human health or the environment a more detailed assessment should be carried out and we should take appropriate action."

As the number of potential chemical combinations is very large, the first challenge under the new approach will be to identify priority mixtures, so that resources can be focused on the most potentially harmful combinations.

Methodologies for assessing the risks of priority mixtures exist but many data and knowledge gaps persist. The issue is complicated by the fact that much EU legislation targets specific groups, covering plant protection products, biocides, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, veterinary medicines, and so on. This can be an obstacle to co-ordinated, integrated assessments of mixtures containing substances that fall under different pieces of legislation. The Commission will ensure that as soon as a priority mixture is identified, it is assessed in a co-ordinated and integrated manner. By 2014, the Commission will also develop technical guidance to codify best practice for the assessment of priority mixtures.

The Commission will also tackle some of the data and knowledge gaps to improve our understanding of the mixtures to which people and the environment are exposed. It will coordinate the collection of data and review the monitoring data gathered in the context of EU legislation and EU-funded research. It will also create a platform for monitoring chemical data. The Commission will draw up a report in 2015 to take stock of the progress achieved.


Chemicals surround us every day in small amounts, in our food and drink, medications, in the air we breathe, in cosmetics and health care products, clothes, furniture, toys and everything we come into contact with. Our exposure to this mixture of chemical substances starts in the womb, and animals and plants are similarly exposed to a variety of different substances.

A 2009 study in Denmark looked at the exposure of toddlers (2 year old children) to chemical mixtures in the form of multiple endocrine disruptors. The study looked at exposure through food and drink, indoor air and dust, clothes and shoes, contact with toys, the application of health care and hygiene products and through contact with articles such as changing mats and bath mats. It concluded that there was a need to reduce exposure of young children to a number of the substances examined in the study, on the basis of the predicted concentration of the various substances.

The new Commission approach draws heavily on the recent opinion of the three non-food scientific Committees: "Toxicity and Assessment of Chemical Mixtures" (http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/environmental_risks/docs/scher_o_155.pdf) as well as on the "State of the Art Report on Mixture Toxicity" (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/pdf/report_Mixture%20toxicity.pdf).