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The directive on dangerous substances

Protecting public health

A European law covering dangerous substances was introduced in 1967 to protect public health, in particular the health of workers handling dangerous substances. The law, known as the Directive on Dangerous Substances introduced EU-wide provisions on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances.

The classification of dangerous substances places a substance into one or several defined classes of danger and characterises the type and severity of the adverse effects that the substance can cause. The packaging of dangerous substances protects individuals from the known risks of a substance, and the labelling of dangerous substances provides information about the nature of the substance's risks and about the safety measures to apply during handling and use.

Since it was adopted in 1967 the directive has regularly been updated to take into account the latest scientific and technical progress so as to ensure the highest level of protection for individuals and the environment. This also ensures that the internal market functions most efficiently. The amendments to the directive enable newly identified hazardous materials to be added to the list of dangerous substances. The most recent ones - known as the 30th ATP and 31st ATP (Adaptation to Technical Progress) - introduce or modify the EU harmonised classification and labelling requirements for more than 800 and 600 substances respectively.

Under the REACH regulation on chemicals, substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or having reproductive toxic effects may need authorisation to be used or placed on the market.

The current classification and labelling system is in the process of being replaced by a new law known as the Regulation on the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures, which takes effect from 20 January 2009. The Regulation incorporates the classification criteria and labelling rules agreed at UN level, the so-called Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

Important amendments to the law on dangerous substances

One of the most important amendments to the directive was the 6th amendment in 1979, which included measures to protect the environment from the dangerous effects of substances. It also introduced a notification system for “new” substances which required lists of “existing” substances -- called EINECS – to be published. EINECS is the European Inventory of Existing Commercial Chemical Substances and lists all substances that were reported to be on the market on or before 18 September 1981. The substances placed on the market for the first time after this target date are considered “new” and are added to ELINCS. ELINCS is European List of Notified Chemical Substances.

Another important step was the 7th amendment of the directive in 1992, which introduced risk assessments to be carried out for “new” substances. It also introduced the concept of “sole representative” in the notification system and added the Safety Data Sheet as a hazard communication facility for the professional user.