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Study on New Approaches for extended chemical management and REACH: The role of REACH in a circular economy

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesisResearch


  • Jihyun Lee, Denmark
For several decades, the use of chemicals has been rapidly increasing and widely spread in our daily life. To cope with this trend, the paradigm of chemical management system has changed: from hazard criteria which is based on their intrinsic hazardous properties, to the actual risk of chemicals which is based on both the hazard of the substance and the possible exposure level of human to the substance, and from single substance-oriented to multiple chemical (e.g. mixture toxicity)–oriented management system (EC, 2012; Moeller and Biwer, 2014).
This study aims to examine the limitations of existing chemical regulations in view of protecting vulnerable populations from “excessive total risk” and to explore the possibilities for improvement. Firstly, the completeness of the REACH exposure scenario was reviewed with the finding that the current scenario does not take into account territorial varying background environmental quality. Secondly, to compare the territorial exposure differences from historical accumulation, the childhood exposure to lead from the environment (air and soil) in Denmark and Korea were estimated. The result shows that because of the high lead concentration in soil which mainly originates from historical accumulation, the daily childhood exposure levels from the environment in Denmark are estimated higher than those in Korea: 2.3 times in the median exposure level. Thirdly, to compare the territorial exposure differences from current emission, the childhood exposure to phthalates (DEHP, DBP, and BBP) from the environment (indoor and outdoor environment) and food in Denmark and Korea were estimated. The daily childhood exposure levels of Korea are estimated higher than those of Denmark: 1.0-1.5 times in DEHP, 2.5-3.5 times in DBP, and 1.9-3.5 times in BBP for median exposure levels. Then the result from exposure scenario approach (ESA) was compared with the result from back-calculation approach (BCA), using the concentrations of phthalate metabolites in children’s urine reflecting the actual exposure level of the target group. It was found that the exposure levels obtained from BCA are higher than those from ESA. Like ESA, the daily intake levels of Korean children are higher than those of Danish children: 1.1-2.1 times in DEHP, 2.3-4.1 times in DBP, and 2.8-2.9 times in BBP for median exposure levels. Generally, cumulative risk levels obtained from BCA (median) are 1.0 to 2.6 times higher than the risk levels obtained from ESA. This is mainly because of the gaps in exposure levels between BCA and ESA. For DEHP, the exposure from ESA slightly overestimated BCA based exposure level. On the other hand, for both countries, DBP and BBP exposures from ESA method underestimate the total exposure from BCA calculation: 30-50% of DBP, which has the highest toxic capacity among the three phthalates, and 60-70% of BBP exposure levels from BCA is still not explained by ESA. The result shows that even though ESA is considered and prepared to be conservative, the ESA method still underestimates the actual monitored, i.e. BCA based, risk levels of childhood phthalate exposure.
In order to explore whether the missing regulation on the quality of secondary materials in green production may contribute to explain the above mentioned gap between BCA and ESA, additional analysis has been performed. The analysis of the current mass flow of plastics and paper in Europe shows that with the recycling of 60% of paper and 26% of plastic wastes, approximately 4% to 18% of the above mentioned phthalates are re-entering the product cycle through recycling. Moreover, a case study on the childhood phthalate exposures from food packaging made from recycled materials, and a simulation of the flows of phthalates in 2020 - under the assumption that the recycling rate of plastic and paper products will increase with the full implementation of EU waste legislations by 2020 - have been performed. Even under the 50% reduction of phthalates production, the increased recycling rate of plastic and paper in 2020 might lead to an increase of unwanted recycling of DEHP and BBP to 110 and 40% respectively, while recycling of DBP will decrease by 15%. The results demonstrate that without controlling the quality of recycled materials, increased recycling of resources in a circular economy might increase undesirable recycling of micro-pollutants. Finally, a systemic approach based on sustainable resource flows was proposed for extended chemical management and the role of REACH in a circular economy.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages139
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2014

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