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Lessons Learned from the Grouping of Chemicals to Assess Risks to Human Health

Grouping chemicals for risk assessment can consider the similarity of their intrinsic properties (e.g. structure), extrinsic properties, (e.g. persistence), and toxicological properties (e.g. genotoxicity). Based on the lessons learned on several substance classes, we derive principles of grouping, and differentiate between the prioritization of chemicals in groups of the same initial concern versus the definitive groups for justified read-across.


In analogy to the periodic system that groups elements by their similarity in structure and chemical properties, the hazard of chemicals can be assessed in groups having similar structures and similar toxicological properties. Here we review case studies of chemical grouping strategies that supported the assessment of hazard, exposure, and risk to human health. By the EU-REACH and the US-TSCA New Chemicals Program, structural similarity is commonly used as the basis for grouping, but that criterion is not always adequate and sufficient. Based on the lessons learned, we derive ten principles for grouping, including: transparency of the purpose, criteria, and boundaries of the group; adequacy of methods used to justify the group; and inclusion or exclusion of substances in the group by toxicological properties. These principles apply to initial grouping to prioritize further actions as well as to definitive grouping to generate data for risk assessment. Both can expedite effective risk management.

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