FRAM's Centre Director delivered keynote speech at OECD workshop

FRAM’s Center Director Thomas Backhaus delivered the introductory keynote speech at the recent OECD workshop on contaminants of emerging concern. He talked about the necessity of considering chemical mixtures and the shortcomings of REACH.

On the fifth of February 2018, the OECD brought the chemical safety and water quality policy communities together in Paris for a workshop on contaminants of emerging concern. Representatives from the OECD member states, water utilities, the pharmaceutical industry, academia, IGOs and NGOs participated. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the challenges that contaminants of emerging concern, such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and nanoparticles, pose for drinking water production and environmental health.
Thomas Backhaus presented an introductory overview (you can download a copy of the slides here) and stressed the importance of improving EU-regulations such as REACH, in order to manage and assess chemical mixtures in the environment. Today, 42 new chemicals are discovered per hour and 100 000 chemicals are used in commerce. With millions of species in the environment, that means more than 22 billion exposure scenarios. And that is without even considering different concentrations, simultaneous occurrence of chemicals, or any type of ecological interactions.
The EU-regulation REACH is mainly considering one chemical at a time. A compliance review of almost two thousand REACH dossiers for high-production volume chemicals by the German Institute for Risk Evaluation and the Environmental Protection Agency showed that for four out of ten (42 %) an assessment of the dossier’s quality was not possible. And the rest of the dossiers (58 %) showed definite deficiencies. Only one dossier was fully REACH-compliant.
Thomas concluded that a holistic approach to chemical risk assessment and managements is needed, together with better harmonization between the different legal frameworks and dedicated strategies on how to deal with the “known unknowns” as well as the “unknown unknowns”. Ways forward include more adaptive management, publicly available quality-assured data bases on exposure and effects, as well as improved science communication.

– The workshop was a great opportunity to discuss the issue on an international stage, with representatives from the OECD member countries and various stakeholders participating. It’s encouraging to see that the OECD actively works on developing adequate policy responses to a complex environmental and public health issue, concludes Thomas Backhaus.