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Collecting and evaluating data in order to save lives

25/2023, 23.11.2023

Establishment of a national poisoning register at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

Today the Fourth Act amending the German Chemicals Act was announced in the Federal Law Gazette (BGBl. 2023 I Nr. 313). This stipulates the establishment of a central poisoning register at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Data from all German poison centres and the BfR are to be compiled and evaluated in this register. “The establishment of the poisoning register will give us an overview of all poisoning incidents in Germany for the first time”, says Prof Dr Matthias Greiner, Head of the Department Exposure at the BfR. “This will enable us to provide consumers as well as ministries and the relevant authorities with a much better data basis on the health risks associated with handling hazardous products and then address them accordingly. This is an important step in further improving consumer safety”. The register will be launched on 1 January 2026. By providing fast and accurate information on cases of poisoning, it will help to better protect the health of consumers and, in the best-case scenario, save lives.

It takes only one second of distraction. Before you know it, a child has put a poisonous plant or cleaning agent in their mouth. In most cases, such poisoning accidents do not cause much harm. However, poisoning can also lead to permanent damage or even be fatal. If family members or childcare staff in nurseries and schools find themselves in such a situation, the seven poison centres of the federal states are often the first and decisive point of contact. Staffed around the clock, they provide citizens with information on first aid or advise medical personnel in the event of suspected poisoning. Every year, the poison centres receive around 250,000 calls about cases of poisoning or suspected poisoning. However, the information on the cases has not yet been brought together and systematically analysed Germany-wide. This is set to change with the national poisoning register.

The BfR is already collecting reports on poisoning accidents

Case reports on poisoning have been collected at the BfR and its predecessor institutions since 1990. The basis is the German Chemicals Act. Accordingly, doctors must report all cases of poisoning with chemicals – including suspected cases – to the BfR. “We are already receiving reports of poisoning cases. But these concern mainly the occupational area”, says Greiner. “Most reports to the BfR come from employers’ liability insurance associations and other statutory accident insurance organisations – for example, in the case of occupational accidents involving chemicals”. The poison centres receive reports on a broader spectrum of cases, especially those involving children.

In the new poisoning register, the data from the BfR will be combined with the information on calls to the poison centres. In addition to the substance responsible for the poisoning, the associated product and the type of exposure are also recorded (i.e., whether the substance was swallowed or inhaled). Age group and gender are also registered. Instead of the approx. 8,000 reports that have been submitted to the BfR case database under the German Chemicals Act on average per year to date, it is expected that there will be around 190,000 cases per year. Poisonings with narcotics, veterinary medicines, and alcoholic beverages are not included in the register. Medicines do not appear there either because a separate monitoring system already exists for them.

Further information on poisoning accidents is available on the BfR website

BfR app: Poisoning accidents among children (in German)

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