Hazardous substances in the human environment

Hazardous substances (like fireworks and gasoline) can cause major damage in the event of an accident. Furthermore, emissions of chemicals to air and water can cause long-term negative effects for human health or the environment. People also come into contact with chemicals by using pesticides, cleaning agents or paints, for example. There are rules for all these types of risk at the global, EU and national level.

Calculating acceptable risk to the human environment

For a wide range of risks, the government calculates the probability of their actually occurring. For instance, the individual risk of dying of food poisoning may not be greater than once every 125,000 years. The maximum acceptable risk for natural disasters like earthquakes is 1 in 500,000 years.

The government makes similar calculations for the transport, storage, processing and use of hazardous substances. It also considers ‘collective risk’, which indicates how many victims there are likely to be in a single event: 10, 100 or 1,000. Collective risk is therefore a measure of the likely scale of a disaster.

Check hazards on Risicokaart.nl

A special hazard map showing elevated levels of risk, Risicokaart, has been produced for the Netherlands. The basic data on which the map is based were taken from the Hazard Register.


Fireworks are an example of an explosive substance that can cause major damage in residential areas. Around New Year, many consumers buy fireworks to set them off in their town or neighbourhood. Strict rules apply to the transport, storage and selling of fireworks in built-up areas.

Responsibility for risks associated with hazardous substances

Responsibility for the risks associated with hazardous substances is divided among a number of authorities:

  • Public safety and transport of hazardous substances, rules for placing chemicals on the market and rules for emissions of substances: Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment;
  • Safety at enterprises that work with hazardous substances; Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment;
  • Safety of consumer products, cosmetics, food contact materials and toys: Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports;
  • Safety of buildings, disaster prevention and response: Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations;
  • Safety situation in the vicinity of high-risk enterprises: local and provincial authorities. They are obliged, among other things, to ensure that environmental permits comply with requirements for public safety and emissions.

Requirements and criteria for environmental permits

With regard to prevention of accidents, the Hazardous Substances Series (PGS) provides local authorities and regulators with an overview of regulations, requirements and criteria for:

  • drafting general rules;
  • issuing environmental permits;
  • overseeing workplace safety, environmental safety and fire prevention.

The Activities Decree sets rules for the emission of hazardous substances to air and water.

Rules for emissions of hazardous substances

There are specific rules for industrial emissions of hazardous substances to air and water. Substances that give rise to very high concern for human health and environment are called 'zeer zorgwekkende stoffen'. These substances meet the criteria in the European REACH Regulation for 'substances of very high concern' (SVHC}. Examples are lead,  chloroethylene and benzene. The aim is to keep these chemicals out of the environment as far as possible.