Friday, March 20, 2009

Dueling Databases - Industry to Publish Global Chemicals Database

Data are power! I've said this before, and despite being a bit cumbersome as a phrase, it does highlight a growing trend. About a month ago I mentioned that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) was looking at developing a global database of chemicals used in various products. The database is to be discussed in Geneva in May at the second session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM2), which is part of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) process.

Now leading bodies of the global chemical industry are planning to publish their own global online database of chemical substances for stakeholders, which they are calling the Global Product Strategy (GPS). The organizations include the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and Cefic in Europe, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in the US, and Japan's JCIA. While details are still being worked out, the industry plans to present the concept of GPS at the same ICCM2 meeting.

These databases follow on the heels of many other online resources, including databases that contain the summary results of many studies over many years. The High Production Volume (HPV) Chemical databases resulting from the voluntary HPV Challenges in the US, Europe and Japan are also online. As will the data being developed as a result of the new REACH law in Europe and the new Chemical Assessment and Management Program (ChAMP) in the United States.

Online databases are not entirely new, as chemical plant release data have been available for many years as part of the Toxic Release Inventory. But the near ubiquitous accessibility of the internet, combined with improved user-friendliness of interfaces and the increase in data collection, have contributed to what amounts to a boom of information available to the public. There are drawbacks, of course, of so much data - often too complex to understand - being available to everyone. But overall having access to information will help improve everyone's decision-making capability.

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