November 2016 News Bulletin: TSCA brings in new era of US chemical risk management; 40% of UK councils exceed air pollution limitsNovember 17, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
November 2016 News Bulletin
TSCA 2.0: A New Era in Chemical Risk Management. Early indicators suggest the new law will more effectively protect people—including vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women—than the old law it replaces. But stakeholders are watching closely to see if the changes really do live up to their promise. (EHP)
EU drops law to limit cancer-linked chemical in food after industry complaint. Campaigners say leaked documents show ‘undue influence’ by the food industry after plans to limit acrylamide – found in starchy foods such as crisps, cereals and baby foods – are weakened. (The Guardian)
Reducing Developmental Neurotoxin Exposure. Citing an alarming increase in childhood neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a group of scientists, health professionals, and children’s health advocates is calling for increased monitoring, assessment, and reduction of neurotoxic chemicals. The Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks (TENDR) Consensus Statement, published in July in Environmental Health Perspectives, is “a call to action to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals that can contribute to the prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities in America’s children.” (JAMA)
Four in 10 UK councils exceed air pollution limits, figures show. Ministers reveal 169 local authorities breached annual legal limits on nitrogen oxide, linked to lung disease, last year. (The Guardian)
Fragranced products: Risks for people and profits? New research has found that over one-third of Americans report health problems when exposed to common fragranced consumer products, and that fragranced products may affect profits, with more than 20% of respondents entering a business, but leaving as quickly as possible if they smell air fresheners or some fragranced product. (Eurekalert)
New research report on flame retardant chemicals shows Canada’s failure to protect health. A new report by a coalition of Canadian researchers highlights the failure of federal regulations to keep harmful flame retardant chemicals out of homes and consumer products. Toxic by Design, released today by the Endocrine Disruptors Action Group (EDAction), investigates how flaws in Canada’s regulatory approach to toxic flame retardants have far-reaching health effects. (Morningstar.com)
Concerns about “confused set of processes” and too high a burden of proof, says letter
A group of scientists investigating how to make best use of the best evidence to identify and classify endocrine disruptors, have written to EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis to voice concerns about the EU’s newly-proposed criteria for identification and regulation of endocrine disruptors.
The scientists are concerned about two main things:
- That the criteria place an under-defined, potentially unprecedentedly high, burden of proof on identifying problem compounds as having endocrine disrupting properties, with the result that the identification process will be either conducted inconsistently, or only a very small proportion of actual EDCs may be classified as such.
- That the criteria present a confused set of processes for identifying, evaluating and integrating scientific evidence which unnecessarily privilege certain types of data, and cannot be adequately operationalised for regulatory identification of EDCs.
The concerns are summarised in an opinion piece published in Euractiv. They are derived from the SYRINA Framework, a newly-published piece of research which outlines how to make best use of existing evidence for identifying and classifying EDCs, which is available here.
Similar concerns to those raised in the letter have been raised by other researchers, including in a letter to the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology which says the criteria “ensure that hardly any endocrine disruptors used as pesticides will be barred from commerce”, and a report from environment lawyers ClientEarth which concludes the proposed criteria are illegal “because they limit the identification of endocrine disruptors to those that are known to cause adverse effects”.
A “Matthew Effect” in
the research agenda
Two papers published in the last month have argued that the way toxicology research is incentivised is actively countering the discipline’s ability to produce the sort of research which is useful for preventing harm to health from chemical pollutants.
In one of the papers (Sobek et al. 2016), researchers from Stockholm find that Swedish scientists engaged in environmental monitoring tend to look for chemicals they know they will find, most commonly look for legacy pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs, and have left 98% of REACH-registered chemicals uninvestigated.
Although monitoring legacy pollutants is important, there is a question as to how much of this needs to be done and how it ought to be organised; and the major problem is that, if nobody is looking into emerging substances, how is anyone going to identify the next major pollution problem?
The second paper, “Paracelsus Revisited” (Grandjean 2016) laments how the demands for documentation, replication and reinforcement of existing findings, coupled with other determinants of research priorities among academics (such as feasibility of the study, availability of funding and pace of publication) are contributing to inertia and inflexibility in toxicological research.
The worry expressed in both papers is that, while established hazards become ever-better understood, new hazards are too-rarely investigated: in effect, academic research spends too much time investigating the ground illuminated by the street lamps, but not enough on increasing the amount of ground which is lit up.
To illustrate the problem, of the environmental chemicals identified as a top research priority by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, barely any have been covered by academic research even today, while the Swedish Research Council for the Environment only funded three scientific research projects with the aim of identifying emerging contaminants.
Somehow, the way research is incentivised needs to change, so that the determinants of research priorities stop militating against the fundamental objectives of toxicology. This is going to be difficult, as many of the drivers of research present catch-22s. For example, if researchers are not looking for a chemical or assessing its health effects, there is no data to justify regulatory action; yet, regulatory action is a significant driver of the research which produces this data in the first place.
Overcoming what both papers describe as a “Matthew Effect” in research will require careful investigation of the mechanisms by which research objectives are prioritised, and (above all) imaginative interventions which will break the feedback loops that result in too much time being spent on activities which might be effective for keeping a research unit a going concern, but which do not service the big picture of toxicology.