News 2016 / October

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China sells more chemicals than the EU and US combined, but little is known about it

In order to achieve true sustainability one of the most important things In my opinion is knowledge. Knowledge about who produces which kind of chemicals. And as this knowledge is growing in Europe and the US, we still know very little about hazardous chemicals and production volumes in Asia. This dark spot makes me a little nervous as chemical production in Asia is skyrocketing.

China is now the country with the highest sales by far: € 1,408.7 billion in 2015. That’s more than EU-28 (€ 615 billion) and NAFTA (€ 583 billion) combined! CEFIC (the European Chemical Association) states in its Facts & Figures report that chemical production in the world grew by 14 percent in 2015, mainly driven by the Asian market, which grew by 30 percent. This shift has happened in the last decade.

World chemical sales by region
Click to enlarge

But as I stated above we unfortunately know very little about the Chinese chemical industry. More specifically, we have a lack of knowledge about sources of environmental pollution and causes of serious health effects or accidents.

To shed some light on this, Greenpeace have started a great initiative.

They screened everything from official government data to news in the media during a timespan of 8 months (January – August 2016) and found out about 232 accidents, 199 fatalities and 400 injuries. On average that means there are 29 chemical accidents a month, or 1 death or injury every 10 hours.

If you don’t think this figure is something to be concerned about then try to remember any chemical accident in Europe. Apart from the recent accident at the BASF plant in Ludwigshafen, the bigger ones were already decades ago (fortunately). Personally I remember the disasters of Sandoz in 1986 and Hoechst in 1993. Both caused severe environmental pollution, but there were no fatalities.

To understand the problem even better Greenpeace is now developing a user-generated mapping system to allow civil society to contribute with their knowledge about chemical facilities. I wish them lots of success. This information is essential to achieve a better and safer world.


Sonja Haider

Sonja Haider
ChemSec Policy and Investors Advisor