- biomonitoring of individuals affected by exposure to chemicals in the Grenfell tower tragedy;
- the nature of future products regulations, including substances of very high concern in furniture and toys;
- exposure to a range of different chemicals both individually and simultaneously, including potential endocrine disruptors.
Royal Society of Chemistry workshops on chemical mixtures and biomonitoring – drawing on expertise from policymakers and scientists from across our community – have identified these as state of the art topics, where further scientific research is needed in order to develop new methods and tools for risk assessment.
MPs specifically highlighted the Royal Society of Chemistry’s five risk management principles that should be adopted collectively to ensure balanced decision-making for chemicals: the precautionary, risk and impact, mutual recognition, innovation principles and the citizens ‘right-to-know’ principle. The committee has also specifically adopted the RSC’s recommendation to establish a register of specialists to assist Government’s decision-making process, stating:
"As the UK’s chemicals regulator, the Health and Safety Executive should retain alignment to ECHA’s candidate list of substances of very high concern. Deviation should only happen where the intention is to increase safety standards by moving more quickly to restrict a substance of concern. In its statement on how it will comply with the measures set out in UK REACH, the Health and Safety Executive should outline a formal role in the substance evaluation process for the Committee on Toxicity and Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee. It should also establish a forum for engagement with stakeholders. We support the Royal Society of Chemistry’s call for a register of specialists to be established to assist the decision-making process for chemicals policy within BEIS and Defra."
The Environmental Audit Committee’s call for evidence has been an excellent opportunity to underline the importance of cutting-edge science informing policy and regulation. One of the many examples of our work in this area is our work this year with the Foods Standards Agency. They administer the Committee on Toxicity (COT) for the UK, so we helped them to recruit additional experts to the COT and other committees, to boost capability for future regulatory responsibilities.
Some key chemicals scientists in our community are members of the now expanded Committee on Toxicity. A similar approach to expanding capability may be needed for the Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee and other advisory bodies in government.
The report also looked into a chemicals strategy to define future research investment in key chemical science areas. It said:
"In the coming years, the Government will be required to replicate much of the chemicals regulatory work currently undertaken by the EU. It is a matter of great regret that there has been no funding for ecotoxicology research since 2012. We recommend that Defra commits to funding an annual research programme for chemicals in the environment to plug this knowledge gap. This should build on the work of NERC’s chemicals in the environment programme and support both ecotoxicology and toxicology strands. The areas of interest of the programme should be guided by the objectives set out in the Chemicals Strategy including human and wildlife biomonitoring and speeding up the development of green chemistry approaches."
Camilla Alexander-White, Royal Society of Chemistry senior policy advisor, said “Chemicals are critically important to our everyday life, but we know some can be harmful if not regulated effectively. This inquiry marks the start of an important conversation to ensure that, post-Brexit, we have a clear and effective UK chemicals strategy in place that supports future trade within the EU and beyond, and continues to maintain high standards of protection from substances of concern.
“The Environmental Audit Committee is right to call for a clear, ambitious vision for our future chemical environment, recognising our evidence that chemicals safety evaluation is on a path to disruptive change through scientific advancement. The whole of UK society will benefit from a bold strategy, and we look forward to continue working with government and wider society to help develop it.”