As an environment-conscious institution, the ECB tries very hard to make prudent use of natural resources, to preserve the quality of the environment and to protect human health in the production and supply of euro banknotes.
Already in 2003 the ECB did an assessment to identify the environmental impact of euro banknotes and whether the product or processes could be improved in that respect. As euro banknotes are products for everyday use, they were compared with two other everyday products and services: driving a private car and lighting a 60W bulb.
The assessment concluded that the environmental impact of euro banknotes during their complete life cycle is equivalent to each European citizen driving a car one kilometer or leaving a 60W light bulb switched on for half a day.
The study followed the international standard ISO 14040 ff. and covered the whole life cycle of banknotes – stretching from production, storage and circulation to their end-of-life treatment.
The assessment was based on process data collected from a total of 31 suppliers in the euro banknote supply chain, on specific data on raw materials used and literature data on standard processes, such as the production of electricity or transport - mostly taken from the Ecoinvent 2000 database. It was based on the total banknote production in 2003, which amounted to approximately 3 billion in all denominations with a total weight of approximately 2,500 tonnes.back to top
Euro banknotes are safe: independent test results confirm that euro banknotes fulfil all EU regulations concerning a wide range of chemical substances present in euro banknotes. All substances found have shown a concentration far below any limit.
Already before their launch in January 2002, euro banknotes were tested for possible risks related to acute oral toxicity, dermal irritation and genotoxicity. In the absence of any specific regulation for banknotes, the tests were carried out in accordance with the ISO 10993-Part 3 standard. The results confirmed that euro banknotes do not cause any of the above-mentioned hazards.
In addition, the ECB assessed general health and safety risks related to the manufacturing and use of euro banknotes. Extensive laboratory analyses on representative samples showed that there was no evidence of the presence of many dangerous substances in euro banknotes, or that they have been detected at a very low concentration beyond the legal limits, such as those applicable to foodstuffs or day-to-day products in contact with the human body.
Since 2001 the Eurosystem has been approached on a variety of substances (see below for details). In all cases, either the concentration was so minimal that it posed no health risk or the substance in question was not found at all.
In February 2002 the German magazine "Öko-Test" published an article on the presence of organotin compounds in euro banknotes, with the following concentrations:
TBT is used in many different day-to-day products. It is a well-known stabiliser in plastic materials and is considered to be toxic in high concentrations. The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of TBT for a person is 0.25 μg/per kilogram weight/per day. Therefore, a person weighing 75 kg would have to eat several thousand banknotes every day for his/her entire life in order to absorb an amount of TBT coming close to the ADI. Although this hypothesis is unrealistic, the ECB nevertheless decided, in 2002, that TBT would be eliminated from all raw materials used for the production of euro banknotes in order to avoid any public concern about the presence of toxic elements.
Press publications in 2003 stated that euro banknotes were printed on paper containing a high concentration of genetically modified cotton fibres.
The euro banknotes are printed on paper made of 100% cellulose. The cotton fibres used for banknotes are the same as those used for the production of textiles for clothing. All paper mills involved in the production of euro banknote paper use cotton combers as raw material. These are purchased on the open market either directly from the textile industry as spinning waste, or from waste collectors or brokers. Consequently, it is possible that the raw material used for producing euro banknote paper – just as that used for the production of textiles – contains genetically modified cotton fibres.
However, the production process for euro banknote paper involves several chemical and physical treatments which remove the proteins affected by the genetic modification. Detailed laboratory analyses have been carried out which have shown that the euro banknote paper and euro banknotes do not contain any detectable genetically modified structure.
One national central bank of the Eurosystem was contacted in 2003 about a possible allergic reaction to colophony: a substance allegedly present in euro banknotes. Colophony is a substance commonly used for improving the printing characteristics of stationery and printing paper. Subsequent laboratory tests confirmed that there is no indication that colophony is present in euro banknotes.
One national central bank of the Eurosystem was contacted in 2005 regarding a possible allergic reaction to p-phenylenediamine present in euro banknotes. P-phenylenediamine is used, inter alia, as a compound of hair and henna dyes.
Subsequent laboratory tests indicated a maximum concentration of p-phenylenediamine in euro banknotes of 0.182 mg/kg, that is, 1/300,000 of the maximum concentration permitted under EU legislation applicable to cosmetics. According to the specialists consulted on the matter, the presence of such a small concentration of the substance would exclude any impact on public health.
One national central bank of the Eurosystem was contacted in 2006 about a possible allergic reaction to glutaral (glutardialdehyde) allegedly present in euro banknotes. Glutardialdehyde is used as disinfectant and long-term preserving additive. An intensive investigation concluded that there was no evidence of the presence of glutaral in euro banknotes.
In 2002 the ECB was contacted regarding a possible allergic reaction to nickel sulphate present in euro banknotes.
Owing to the chemical structure of nickel and its derivative products, a specific analysis of nickel sulphate is very difficult. The "overall nickel" and "nickel derivative products" content was therefore analysed. The total concentration detected in uncirculated banknotes was 2.4 mg per kg of banknotes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated a Tolerable Daily Intake of 0.005 mg of nickel per kg of body weight per day. This – very strict – indication means that a person weighing 75 kg could eat more than a hundred euro banknotes every day and the amount of the overall nickel ingested would still be below the tolerable intake.back to top
To further its environmental engagement, the ECB is currently developing two monitoring systems for the Eurosystem. The first is an environmental management system based on the ISO 14001 standard for the complete banknote supply chain. The ECB is developing this system in cooperation with the banknote production industry. A second system will cover health and safety aspects related to the manufacturing and use of euro banknotes. It will also be based on commonly agreed international standards. Both systems should be fully implemented at production sites by 2010.
The installation of these monitoring systems is precautionary. They take the latest developments in environmental and health thinking into account and will help to ensure that euro banknotes continue to fulfil all applicable standards.back to top