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OECD, Experts Discuss Access to Information on Chemical Safety

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) hosted a webinar on its eChemPortal, which aims to increase access to information on chemicals, enable companies and countries to share the burden of work, avoid duplication of efforts, ensure resource efficiency, and reduce animal testing.

The webinar took place on 16 September 2020 with the participation of 400 experts and actors in the area of chemical safety.

In an overview of the eChemPortal, Valérie Frison and Sally De Marcellus, OECD, recalled that it was developed in collaboration with the European Chemicals Agency and with government contributions, and launched as a prototype in 2007 to contribute to the sharing of knowledge, information, and data priority of the Strategic Approach for International Chemicals Management (SAICM). The new website was launched in February 2020 with an improved design and user experience.

The OECD representatives said the portal: enables searches by substance identification, chemical properties and effects, and classifications; searches data from multiple sources simultaneously; provides direct free access to information; and describes the type of review data have undergone. Information from third-party data sources supports health and environmental decisions concerning chemicals management for all stakeholders regardless of geography or purpose. 

The portal includes approximately 800,000 substance records from 34 databases of authorities and international organizations regarding chemicals, pesticides, and biocides. The number of data sources participating in eChemPortal is continuously increasing. Over four million searches were conducted in 2019 by users from industry, government, academics and the general public. 

In an exchange of country experiences, Gerlinde Knetch, German Environment Agency (UBA), said UBA prioritizes chemicals that pose the greatest risks but there are gaps in the portal’s data and information in this regard. However, the portal represents a good example of bringing all databases together in a ‘one-stop shop.’ She highlighted the April 2020 launch of the SAICM Knowledge Platform, and the portal’s contribution to the platform’s data and information component.

Jake Sanderson, Environment Canada and member of the steering group for the eChemPortal, highlighted the inclusion of two Canadian databases in the portal. He noted his government’s frequent use of the portal, which he said is internationally recognized as the repository for chemical information used by regulatory authorities for risk assessment and prioritization. He stressed the importance of data quality and reputation, and increased participation of developing countries, and suggested that the portal could offer more collaboration opportunities between regulators.

Representing industry and academic perspectives, Violaine Verougstraete, Eurometaux (non-ferrous metals producers and recyclers in Europe), addressed trends in Europe, including the EU Green Deal, which, she said, all lead to a less toxic future. She mentioned the revision of measures to address pollution from large industrial installations, and said industry should view chemicals management, which is also about value chains and downstream users, as a global issue.  

On students’ use of the eChemPortal, Verougstraete said students welcomed the number of databases included in the portal, but stressed the need to know what is behind the data and whether the data are reliable. In addition, they said common formatting would be helpful, noting possible confusion when assessing data from different databases.

During the question and answer session, panelists suggested that OECD provide hands-on training and video tutorials on use of the portal, and said potential data sources could undergo a review process before being included in the portal. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]