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Gefährliche Stoffe im Alltag

Hazardous substances in everyday life

Every day, large quantities of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other hazardous products or substances are transported, manufactured and handled all over the world. Containers with tons of acids, toxic substances, cartons with small pressure cylinders or even tank containers with 20,000 liters of flammable liquid pass our roads, railroads or inland waterways. In some modern industrialized countries, the transport of dangerous goods now accounts for almost ten percent of all road traffic. (Source: Mordorintelligence)

So the danger is omnipresent and sometimes I get goose bumps when I imagine what is being transported around us. But dangerous goods logistics today go to great lengths worldwide to ensure the safety of these transports: strict regulations make the dangers visible to everyone. I’m thinking of placards, i.e. clearly visible placards in accordance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Codes, the ADR (“Accord européen relatif au transport international des marchandises dangereuses par route”), the RID (“Règlement concernant le transport international ferroviaire de marchandises dangereuses”) or the ADN (“European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Inland Waterways”). Equally important is the seamless documentation that accompanies the materials and that an expert in the background keeps an eye on the entire transportation process. All these factors (and many more) limit the risk of an incident to a manageable level. In Germany, for example, only eight out of every 1,000 registered road accidents involving personal injury are classified as accidents involving hazardous goods(source). Traffic with dangerous goods is monitored much better than normal traffic.

Everyone has to deal with hazardous substances - day in, day out

As I’m writing these pages, I’m once again browsing online stores to order birthday presents for my loved ones. While I’m looking at perfumes on my tablet, I think about what else I could do. Cleaning the floor, charging the batteries of my razor and doing the laundry – not really big things, just everyday life.

A few days later, the friendly man from the courier service delivers a box containing a few bottles of my mother-in-law’s favorite fragrances. When I open the packaging, I suddenly notice a label that I know very well from my business life: it indicates that potentially dangerous goods are being transported here in limited quantities.

In logistics, the term “limited quantities” generally refers to the fact that certain goods are exempt from transportation regulations if they are only transported “in limited quantities” in a specific packaging. This is the only way that perfume, antifreeze, gas cylinders and cleaning agents can be sent in normal household quantities via normal parcel service providers.

While I’m still pondering whether this realization should change my online purchasing behavior, the door opens and my wife enters our apartment with a broad smile: “Honey, I’ve ordered some kindling and a small firework display for our next barbecue party, but don’t worry.”

The small difference

My little story contains everyday situations that we all know. And dangerous objects are regularly found in this everyday life:

  • Batteries in tablets, cell phones, multimedia devices, toothbrushes and cars;
  • flammable liquids in perfumes, deodorant sprays, in alcohol-containing mixtures as well as oils and fuels for engines;
  • Gases in pressurized cylinders, in camping equipment and the beloved barbecue station;
  • Peroxides in hair dye kits and acids in cleaning agents;
  • and of course explosive substances in fireworks.

Dangerous products are omnipresent and we deal with them every day without thinking about the possible consequences.

What distinguishes my professional life from my private life is that I deal with comparably huge quantities of dangerous goods professionally. To minimize the risks involved, experienced supply chain experts help us with supporting software. They know exactly how to transport hazardous substances safely.

Very few families have a supply chain expert. Many people forget that small quantities of dangerous goods are an essential part of our everyday lives and must be handled and transported with care. This is because even small quantities can cause injuries or burns, trigger fires and explosions and pollute the environment if handled improperly or if damaged.

Very few families have a supply chain expert.

Therefore, always remember that hazardous goods are everywhere in our daily lives and must be handled with special care. Hidden components can cause injuries if used improperly or if unprofessional repair attempts are made. Be aware of the danger around you. You therefore do not need to live in constant fear.

The European Chemicals Agency ECHA has put a very helpful page online for consumers explaining the most important pictograms for dangerous goods. Here is a description of what these graphic indications mean and what you need to be aware of when handling these substances. They are, so to speak, the placards of private consumers:

Gefahrzeichen Brandgefährlich

May cause fire or explosion

Wear protective clothing. Do not heat. Wash off with water in case of contact.

Gefahrzeichen Leicht entzündlich

Highly flammable gas, aerosol or liquid

Do not heat and do not bring into contact with naked flames

Gefahrzeichen Gefahr bei Erwärmung

Danger due to heating

Protect from sunlight and heat, wear protective clothing and eye protection;

Gefahrzeichen Gesundheitsgefährdend

Harmful if inhaled or swallowed; harmful to the environment; potentially allergenic, skin and eye irritant

Avoid contact with skin and eyes; hazardous waste

Gefahrzeichen Explosionsgefahr


Wear protective clothing; Keep your distance, No smoking, Keep away from heat and flames

Gefahrzeichen Ätzend


Wear protective clothing; wear protective gloves and eye protection; store in protective container

Gefahrzeichen Gewässergiftig

Toxic to aquatic organisms

Hazardous waste; do not dispose of in bodies of water

Gefahrzeichen Potenziell Organschädigend

Danger for pregnant women, unborn children, general, harmful to organs

Avoid inhalation, keep locked up, observe instructions for use

Gefahrzeichen Lebensgefahr

Dangerous to life if inhaled, swallowed or in contact with skin

Do not inhale, do not swallow, avoid skin contact; keep locked up

The ECHA also provides information on which substances must be labeled and packaged and how – so if you want to concoct a perfume yourself and give it to your mother in silence, you can find out here what you need to bear in mind when shipping it.

The Purple Book has been in place for chemicals since 2003 and represents a globally standardized system for classifying and labeling chemicals. It is updated every two years. The core is the Globally Harmonized System (GHS ). It comprises 16 classes for physico-chemical hazards, ten classes for health hazards and one hazard class for the aquatic environment.

After all the theory, I really hope you have fun at your next barbecue, but just remember where you keep the firelighters, how to light the barbecue safely and where the nearest fire extinguisher or fire blanket is.

And remember: in Europe, you can dial 112 from any telephone, mobile or landline, without an area code. What is the emergency number in your region, do you know?

Cover illustration: Leschaco, created with AI by Adobe Firefly on 11.01.2024.

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