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Hazardous Substances Law (UN Purple Book)

In 2003, the UN presented the "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals" (GHS) as a so-called "Purple Book". This document, named after the purple colour of its cover, forms the basis for a system for describing and communicating the properties of chemicals that can be used uniformly all over the world.

The goal of the uniform GHS is to simplify transnational trade and transport of chemical substances and mixtures of substances and to improve consumer and occupational safety at the same time. In this way, an internationally consistent hazardous substance management or the standardization of worldwide hazardous substances law is sought at a global level.

However, the GHS is not directly legally effective. Its implementation in applicable law is the responsibility of individual member states. The "Purple Book" is usually updated every two years.


International hazardous materials management – The present state and prospects

With the GHS, the "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals", the United Nations launched a worldwide uniform system for classifying and labelling of chemicals in 2002. Many industrialized countries have since adopted the GHS into their national laws. However, according to a UN report published in 2019, its implementation is still missing in more than 120 countries. The hazardous substances law is also not identical in the states that have adapted the GHS.


GHS and the difficulties of harmonization

The GHS provides the framework for the international legislation concerning hazardous substances. However, due to the different implementations on national levels, there are still many differences in the local regulations.

This is mainly due to three factors:

  1. Countries may determine which parts of the GHS (so-called building blocks) they adopt and which they do not.
  2. Certain restrictions may be introduced within the building blocks, e.g. the classification category Acute Tox. 5 has been omitted in many countries.
  3. The GHS is revised every two years and every country may decide whether to implement the current revision. Also, countries that implement the GHS are not bound by the latest revisions but may also fall back on older versions.

All of this means that the goal of the GHS, globally uniform hazardous substance management, is still far away.