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4 August 2006

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Persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic PBT substances

Chemical substances that build up in humans and the environment

Certain types of chemicals are of particular concern to human health and the environment because they stay in the environment, tend to build up in human and animal tissue, and can cause harm.

Specific criteria have been developed to identify substances that have these characteristics and those that represent the greatest potential threat are called Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) and very Persistent and very Bioaccumulative (vPvB) chemicals.

Even relatively small releases of these chemicals can be significant because they will tend to build up in the environment over time and can be transported over long distances. It is more difficult to predict safe levels of these chemicals in the environment because wildlife and humans can be exposed to low levels over a long time and because they can be passed up the food chain, causing higher levels in the top of the animal food chain and in humans. Chemical detection techniques are now so good that low levels of many chemicals can be detected in our bodies. However, having chemicals in our bodies does not necessarily mean that they will harm us.

Finding out about and dealing with these substances early on is the key to preventing long-term problems. We can identify which substances may have these properties by screening regulatory datasets on chemicals. However, we often need industry to carry out more testing before we can be confident that substances do represent a serious risk. Many potentially valuable chemicals may represent less of a risk and can be properly controlled though existing regulation.

PBT and vPvB substances will need to be authorised under the new EU chemical strategy REACH. In the run up to this, we are working with other member states to be clear about possible PBT chemicals that screening has identified.

Find out which substances we are acting as the leading authority on:

Find out more about authorisation:

Find out about the UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum’s list of chemicals of concern, developed using PBT criteria. If a substance is included on this list it does not mean that it is banned or imply that it will be banned or restricted in the future.

Find out about EU regulations implementing the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are chemicals that have the extreme PBT properties and can be transported over a long distance.


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©The Environment Agency 2006
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Author: Nick Cartwright | enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk